White River Township residents advocate for concrete street repairs

Residents of a White River Township subdivision expressed their concerns about crumbling concrete streets in their neighborhood during a county commissioner meeting Monday.

Residents from the Willow Lakes subdivision, a neighborhood built in the 1980s and 90s located northwest of State Road 135 and Stones Crossing Road, have repeatedly said the concrete streets in their neighborhoods are falling apart and are getting worse. They have successfully advocated for some repairs, but say more work is needed.

They got on the commissioner’s agenda to get answers on how and when, their streets would be repaired. They laid out their grievances for commissioners in a letter from the neighborhood’s homeowner’s association prior to the meeting.

Residents had questions about two road projects that were supposed to be completed last year. In August 2021, residents were told the county received funding to fix portions of Willow Street, Woods Court and Willow Court in the neighborhood through the state’s Community Crossings matching grant program. The Willow Street project was completed, but residents say the Woods Court and Willow Court repairs were not.

Bruce Bultman, a Willow Lakes resident and advisor to the homeowners association, told the commissioners crews started working on these street’s after they sent the letter, which the Daily Journal reported on last week. Luke Mastin, the county’s highway direction, explained that crews had come back to begin work in those areas now because they were waiting for warmer temperatures to complete paving in cul-de-sacs.

Willow Lakes residents further asked about additional funding sources aside from Community Crossings.

County officials have been looking at a variety of sources to fund roadwork, as the collective price tag for roadwork in the next five years is about $390 million. One of these funding sources is a possible local income tax which is being discussed by the commissioners and county council. Discussions are ongoing, West said.

Officials are finding it hard to come up with the money for concrete streets because most of the county’s road expenses are smaller amounts for annual maintenance, rather than larger capital projects on the scale of reconstructing miles of concrete streets, Mastin said. The average bid price for street reconstruction is around $1.6 million a mile, and the annual maintenance program is about $3 million. So, if the county were to put the entire annual fund into concrete streets, officials would be able to reconstruct less than two miles a year, Mastin said.

Of the about 31.8 miles of concrete neighborhood streets, about 21.7 miles are rated the poorest on the county’s road rating system. Those streets would cost of more than $35 million to repair, he said.

The highway department has tried to fit in smaller-scale projects to address some of the worst roads in Willow Lakes, with the hope of receiving matching funds from the state. However, these repairs still take out a chunk of the annual maintenance program, and put the county behind with maintaining other streets, including main county roads, Mastin said.

Commissioners Ron West and Kevin Walls told residents they have addressed the matter of funding street repairs with the county council. Talks are ongoing, so there is not an answer immediately available. Officials do know the issue is compounded with the construction of Interstate 69, which ties up other funding, they said.

Residents also had questions about a $5 million bond they believed would be reissued. The bond question dates back to a June 2019 commissioners’ meeting, where a county attorney read a letter on behalf of West saying the repair of streets in Willow Lakes was overdue and recommended when a bond for Whiteland Road ended in December 2020, a new one be issued to pay for the repairs, the letter says. West represents the northern third of the county, including Willow Lakes residents.

Members of the homeowners association then attended a January 2021 commissioner’s meeting, where they requested the bond be reissued. On Monday, West told residents he’s always been in favor of reissuing the bond, for general road work needs, not just Willow Lakes streets, he said. No action was pledged or taken on the bond reissuance.

Willow Lakes resident Craig Thompson told the commissioners he is concerned about how the commissioners have treated residents’ complaints. After years of bringing up their concerns, he is tired of hearing people talking about it without any progress being made, Thompson said.

With current funding constraints and uncertainties, commissioners can’t do much more right away, said Brian Baird, county commissioner. Residents should know the board is aware of the need in Willow Lakes and other neighborhoods across the county. The commissioners have to balance the needs of more than 160,000 residents, Baird said.

“Give us a little bit of consideration as we try to do what we can do for the best of the whole county,” Baird said. “We aren’t going to do that by being pressed continually, that doesn’t work. I would just ask you to continue to communicate with us as other people do, other additions do, other HOA’s do, and we’ll just do the best we can going forward.”

In other business, the commissioners approved an ordinance authorizing $1.5 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, for subdivision road improvements. The county council approved the appropriation last month.

ARPA is a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package that delivered direct relief to Americans and distributed billions to states to respond to the pandemic and to give to cities, towns and counties to respond to the pandemic. Indiana officials distributed $1.28 billion to communities, including about $30.7 million for Johnson County.

The $1.5 million will go to repairing streets in neighborhoods predominately outside White River Township. This decision was made because most of the county’s road budget typically gets spent in White River Township, Walls told the county council last month.

While there is a need for concrete street repairs in the township, based on road assessments completed by the highway department, rural subdivisions need work more immediately, Mastin said last month.