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Last updated: Wed. Jun. 04, 2014 - 03:04 pm EDT

West State widening back on docket

Hearing on much-debated straightening set for June 18

FORT WAYNE — The long-delayed project to widen and straighten West State Boulevard between Wells Street and Spy Run Avenue is again moving forward.

City Engineer Shan Gunawardena told the Urban Transportation Advisory Board on Tuesday that the public hearing on the environmental study required for the project will be at 6 p.m. June 18 at North Side High School.

The environmental study was required in order to get federal funding for the project.

The project calls for two travel lanes in each direction and a softer curve near Eastbrook and Westbrook drives to improve safety. The new alignment – which would require about $3.2 million in property acquisitions and the demolition of several homes – would provide more capacity for the 20,500 vehicles that travel it daily, and a raised bridge over Spy Run Creek would remove it from the threat of floodwaters.

But the project has drawn criticism since it was first proposed in 2008, with some neighbors saying the new road will be a fast urban highway inviting truck traffic and destroying the neighborhood. Many more neighbors have pleaded for the project, saying it will save their neighborhood from the congestion and accidents currently ruining it.

City officials say the road will never be a truck route and that the road will be built to slow traffic, not speed it up, and the design will enhance the neighborhood and remove homes repeatedly damaged by flooding.

City Councilman John Shoaff, D-at large, has been a vocal opponent of the project and is a member of the Urban Transportation Advisory Board. He questioned the scheduling of the hearing, asking whether neighbors have been notified.

“I haven’t heard of anybody getting notice,” he said. “June 18, that’s fairly short notice.”

City officials assured Shoaff that federal requirements for notice are being followed.

Shoaff also questioned the fact that the hearing will be run by the city’s consultant for the project. The hearing is an opportunity for the public to give input, not an impartial body rendering a decision on the project.

“The person chairing it is a party to the proposal,” he said. “It’s not really a fair hearing if the person running the hearing is defending their own proposal. It’s not an impartial opportunity for people from both sides to air their thoughts.”

City officials said the hearing will follow state and federal requirements.

In fall 2012, officials thought the hearing was a month or two away, but Gunawardena said the study has just now worked through the bureaucratic process.

At that time, officials estimated it would cost about $11 million.

The first phase of the project, which goes from the St. Joseph River to Clinton Street, is slated for construction bids in April 2016. The second phase, from Clinton nearly to Wells Street, is scheduled to be bid in March 2017.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Gunawardena said.

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