NEW ALBANY — The city of New Albany must seek additional public involvement before it can move forward with reconstruction of Mount Tabor Road — something for which a handful of residents have been asking for about a year.
Last year, city officials changed the plans for the intersection of Mount Tabor Road and Klerner Lane from a four-way stop to a signalized intersection with turning lanes. The project will result in an entirely reconstructed 1-mile portion of the cracking road as well as new sidewalks.
Because the project is federally funded, the city must follow the National Environmental Policy Act. According to Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Manning, the approved environmental document shows the project will involve a four-way stop, which is what exists now.
INDOT reviewed documents submitted by the consultant at the request of Mount Tabor Road and Klerner Lane residents. State officials discovered that while the city changed the intersection design, the NEPA documents don't reflect this change.
"I feel vindicated," said Scott Whalen, who lives on the corner of Mount Tabor Road and Klerner Lane. "I've been saying this all along throughout the process, there's been no finished plans available, nothing formal that is saying it's changed to a signalized intersection with turn lanes."
INDOT officials told the city that they must "complete an additional information document and complete additional public involvement to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act," Manning wrote in an email to the News and Tribune.
He clarified the city didn't violate NEPA since the project hasn't gone out to bid yet, but it didn't "fully exercise due diligence as it relates to INDOT's process for local federal aid project development ..."
John Rosenbarger, New Albany Public Works projects supervisor, said the city intends to build a signal as planned. That means additional documents must be submitted to INDOT officials, who will then decide how the city must further engage the public.
Rosenbarger initially told the News and Tribune last week that additional public engagement wasn't required, as he said an open house last fall was held "to bring everybody up to date and to show them the signal."
"It's already been done," he said, of public involvement regarding the signal change.
One Mount Tabor Road resident, Kelly Feiock, who attended the meeting and was mostly focused on how the project would affect her property, said she didn't see plans for the signal at the meeting.
Rosenbarger said city officials relied on their engineering consultants to inform them of technical requirements like this one, though he said he doesn't blame anyone in particular for the oversight. Rosenbarger believes the additional document INDOT is now asking for isn't "a major element."
"I would suggest it's correcting a technical error, especially in light of having a public meeting that was really well attended and the kind of meeting you like to have with neighborhoods," he said.
Whalen doesn't believe a signalized intersection is needed for the amount of traffic the road experiences.
"A four-way stop just flows better than a signal," he said. "If it's a signal, it's going to cause three of us at the corner whose driveways dump out at the intersection all kinds of trouble to get out, because you've got cars trying to beat the light or they'll already be stacked up ..."
On the contrary, Rosenbarger believes a traffic signal will provide for better flow.
"You can time signals ... You can control flow with a signal. You can't with a four-way stop," he said.
The project was originally scheduled to go out to bid in February, with construction slated for the summer.