Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 14, 2013

Public eye

Kokomo Tribune

---- — State finally cutsthe ‘weedians’

Just when it seemed as though the weeds, volunteer shrubs, cattails and tall grass couldn’t climb any higher, the Indiana Department of Transportation finally mowed the medians on U.S. 31 in Kokomo. To say it took a bit longer than usual would be an understatement.

Three weeks ago, when we first started hearing complaints about the weeds, we asked an INDOT spokesman when the median would be mowed. The Tipton subdistrict crews were busy with chip-seal work, and would “get on the mowers” as soon as it was done, we were told.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight also received complaints about the scuzzy growth. When residents become dissatisfied with the roads in town, even if the roads are state-owned, the city is usually the default governmental organization for complaints.

“If it was a city property or a county property, or one of the school corporations owned it, and we maintained our property like they do, people wouldn’t accept it,” Goodnight said. “Gov. Pence wouldn’t accept these kinds of weeds outside on the Statehouse lawn.”

But the weed issue speaks to a larger, looming issue concerning U.S. 31, which is that state officials are hoping to get the city to take over the road once the new U.S. 31 bypass is up and running near the end of this year.

So far, neither the city nor INDOT has offered much insight into the negotiations, which would have to include some state money and/or upgrades to the current U.S. 31 corridor.

“What they think is just compensation and what I think is just compensation might be two different things,” Goodnight said Thursday.

“We can’t begin to afford to take over the corridor,” said Larry Ives, Howard County’s metropolitan planning official. “The whole underpavement is gone. The first thing they need to do is a full ‘Four R’ reconstruction. Anything less than that and it will just fall apart.”

Ives said it has now been 12 years since INDOT officials said the road was in need of complete reconstruction. Seven years ago, reconstruction plans were put on hold so the project wouldn’t conflict with the planning work for the new bypass.

In 2005, the estimated cost of reconstruction was $67 million. Then INDOT gave the city of Carmel $90 million to take over 4.5 miles of Keystone Avenue.

If the state gave Kokomo the same level of funding for the 11.3-mile U.S. 31 corridor, INDOT would have to fork out $226 million.

“Why shouldn’t we get the same deal as Carmel? They aren’t special,” Ives said. “Why would we want to bankrupt our community by taking on that albatross?”

The realistic odds of any city not named Carmel getting that level of funding — particularly in the post-Major Moves era — aren’t good.

And the state, with some justice, can point to the 13.3-mile new bypass as proof it hasn’t exactly neglected Kokomo.

There’s also the example of Lafayette, which refused to take over Ind. 26 after Interstate 65 was constructed. Residents there can attest to the endless problems along that corridor, which the state still owns.

So if the state refuses to completely reconstruct U.S. 31 and give Kokomo enough money to maintain the road for the next 20 to 30 years, as local officials are hoping, the city can always refuse to take over the roadway.

Just don’t expect INDOT to cheerfully keep the medians trimmed if that happens.