NEW ALBANY — As plans are considered for the rehabilitation of the Sherman Minton Bridge, the New Albany City Council is expressing concerns about how closures would affect local residents and businesses.
The council unanimously voted Thursday to pass a resolution encouraging the Indiana Department of Transportation to maintain access for vehicles to cross the bridge for the entirety of the project "as long as public safety is ensured and consistent with fiscal responsibility." The resolution, which was written by council member Al Knable, is non-binding, and it addresses how a total closure could negatively affect local business owners, along with their customers and employees.
The Sherman Minton Renewal project team is considering six different options for traffic flow during the $90 million bridge project, including full closure, two lanes open on both decks and one lane open on both decks, along with three options for one-deck closure with an alternating traffic flow between morning and afternoon commutes, and they will likely go with some combination of these options. Construction is expected to begin in early 2021.
Knable said the resolution shows that the council has heard the concerns of New Albany business owners and those who make commutes across the bridge. Council member Dave Barksdale said he sees the resolution as "all of us coming together on the same page and showing solidarity" with residents and local businesses, and he hopes it shows INDOT that there is a vocal group concerned about the economic effects of the bridge project.
Council member Dan Coffey expressed his concerns that the resolution focuses too narrowly on businesses, saying he would like to see a larger focus on populations such as working families who might have to pay an additional $30 or $40 a week to take the toll bridge due to Sherman Minton closures. He said the resolution as originally written is "almost generic."
"This isn't just going to hurt downtown — this is going to hurt the whole community," he said.
Several other council members said they would like to see additional information about how a bridge closure would affect New Albany, including a study of the impacts of the 2011 Sherman Minton Bridge closure. Knable said he kept the resolution vague enough to account for various scenarios, calling the bridge rehabilitation a "relatively nebulous project filled with many twists and turns." The council added language allowing for additions to the resolution as the planning stages continue.
The meeting included comments from several community members regarding the bridge project. Develop New Albany President Rob Dunn said one of the major concerns of local businesses is that the Sherman Minton Renewal project team is not conducting a "hardcore" study of how New Albany businesses will be affected by the bridge project. He said he wants the city to advocate for the "maximum mitigation" of the project's potential negative financial impacts and to represent small businesses in the community.
"We've gained a lot of ground here in the past 10 to 15 years in New Albany, and we'd hate to see something that's a routine maintenance on a bridge to get a lot of shuttered storefronts and lose a lot of our economic prosperity that's been gained," he said.