Some doubt traffic flow plan will help struggling neighborhoods
The $30 million deal to fix the IUPUI Natatorium and improve traffic flow across the IUPUI campus is raising questions.
Under that deal, IU and the Lilly Endowment will provide $20 million for a much-needed renovation of the Nat while the city will pay for $10 million in long-talked about infrastructure improvements on the IUPUI campus.
The biggest change is making Michigan and New York Streets, which are major one-way thoroughfares across campus, two-way. The mayor says that will help nearby neighborhoods such as Haughville and Stringtown better connect to the campus and downtown.
Those neighborhoods, which have struggled economically, have long been separated from the city by the White River, with Michigan and New York the primary ways in and out of downtown.
Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams says making them more accessible to campus is important.
"It's 30,000 students over there and a billion dollar industry. We want more of it coming across the River," Williams said.
He notes he has a personal stake in what happens as well. He's lived in Haughville for many years, raising his 10 children there. He says he wants to see it grow and prosper.
"We need citizens, we need taxpayers, people to purchase property and they want even traffic flow," he said.
Rickie Wagner, who grew up in Stringtown and now lives in a duplex along White River Parkway, agrees. He say with just one way into downtown, traffic on White River Parkway backs up quickly during rush hour.
"You come out in the morning and It takes 15-20 minutes to get across the street. It's the same way in the afternoon," he said.
But Jim Donlan, who's owned a bait shop on White River Parkway for 50-plus years doesn't quite get how going from one-way to two-way streets will help bring people to the area, other than to pass thru it
Donlan explained, "I'm all for upgrades as far as looks goes and things like that, but if you're trying to sell it as a way to open a gateway to Haughville, I don't see how that could affect it."
He also wonders how new crosswalks, curb cutouts landscaped medians, bike lanes and decorative lights on the IUPUI side helps Haughville when it has some big needs of its own.
"We need more infrastructure (improvements) as far as sidewalks and dressing up some of the vacant buildings sitting out here, maybe helping small businesses get in with small business breaks," said Donlan.
At-large Democratic Councilor Zach Adamson is also skeptical.
"When they're talking about New York street, I'm there I will be at the table, but it has to include things like this section of the road where every winter it's a lunar landscape," said Adamson.
Adamson was referring to the section that dips under the railroad bridge just east of Lasalle Street. He says it's had drainage issues for years which have caused huge potholes that have been patched time and time again.
"What is insulting is that they keep bringing up Haughville and Stringtown, which are undeniably in need of work, but what they're really doing is nothing beyond the White River and is almost only on university grounds," he said. "This is mostly I believe a way for the city to contribute more than we have to the Natatorium, which is a state-owned facility."
But as the mayor has said, it's also very important to the city in terms of tourism and economic impact. Over the years the Natatorium has hosted numerous swimming and diving events featuring the sports' top athletes. In 2016, it will once again host the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials.
Asked if to get the Nat done the city had to do something in return, Williams said, "Yeah, it's a partnership. You know a creative partnership. The university wanted that done, we wanted that done, the Nat needed to be done, so they figure out a way to get it done."
The city is using $10 million from the Downtown TIF District to pay for the infrastructure improvements on the IUPUI campus (which still needs final approval from the Metropolitan Development Commission.) As Williams noted, money from that fund has to be used in that downtown district.
While he insists the street improvements across the river will help the nearby neighborhoods, he also said, "it's going to be a while before it happens...but we'll be the squeaky wheel, we'll be squeaking about more infrastructure over here and it will happen."