Neighborhood Looks for Help With Traffic Problem
by Alaina Sullivan
Center Grove will soon have a new superstore along the already well–populated State Road 135, as a new Walmart Super Center will be added as soon as mid-2014. The location for this new store will be south of Smith Valley Road, next to the Home Depot.
Center Grove residents are divided on the addition of this new store. While it does bring new employment opportunities to the area, a major concern has been expressed regarding the effect this new addition will have on the already congested and dangerous intersection at Smith Valley Road and State Road 135. In order to allow this project to proceed, the city of Greenwood has put the responsibility on Walmart to pay for modifications to the intersection to allow for this increased traffic. These plans have been approved and are being overseen by Greenwood, while Walmart will be paying for construction costs.
“The plans call for adding a dedicated right-turn lane to eastbound Smith Valley Road, as well as center medians to SR 135 and Smith Valley Road,” says Mark Richards, director of Greenwood Community Development Services and city engineer. “Those improvements are expected to help mitigate congestion at this intersection by reducing the volume for eastbound through traffic and eliminating left-turn movements from westbound Smith Valley Road into CVS that cause bottlenecks and accidents.”
Those concerned about where the median ends will need to make adjustments when turning into Home Depot. Driving west on Smith Valley Road, one will need to enter through the store’s back entrance. Alternatively, motorists can enter from southbound State Road 135. “The median on Smith Valley Road will be a total of about 500 feet long and terminate approximately 125 feet west of the CVS driveway entrance,” says Richards.
In addition, Richards says another median will be constructed southbound on State Road 135 beginning at the intersection and running past the north entrance to Target. If shoppers want to turn into Target heading south on State Road 135, they will need to enter through the south entrance to the store, turning left at the stoplight. This intersection will also be the main access point for Walmart, as well.
The city is strictly following design standards instituted by the Indiana Department of Transportation for construction of roadways, including medians, traffic signs, pavement markings and signals. INDOTrequirements must be met in order for the city to secure a permit to perform work on State Road 135.
“I don’t expect this to be a problem, because INDOT has reviewed the plans and provided comments back to Walmart’s engineering consultant, who has in turn made requested revisions to the plans,” says Richards.
Improvements to the roadways are expected to start in the spring of 2014 depending on weather conditions. Richards says he expects the bidding process to take eight weeks from advertisement to award.
Residents concerned about traffic
Residents in the Carefree neighborhood have particular concerns with an intersection that is already dangerous and has the potential to only become more so with the additional traffic brought by Walmart. This intersection involves traffic entering and exiting West Smith Valley Road from Tarry Lane; Carefree South, located north of Smith Valley; and two separate driveways within feet of each other, one from Home Depot and the other from Greenwood Office Suites, located west of Home Depot. The exits from these two buildings are not connected, causing extra risk for drivers who are attempting to turn onto Smith Valley Road.
“I am very concerned personally about the safety, as I have a teenage daughter who will be driving in a few years,” says Adam Terrell. “This is a very dangerous intersection for experienced drivers let alone first-time drivers.”
Residents have been told continually that since this intersection is outside Greenwood’s city limits that it is not the city’s responsibility but rather Johnson County’s.
“I feel the divide between the city of Greenwood and the county is a definite problem with this intersection,” says Terrell. “They should have required the yellow building [Greenwood Office Suites] to enter through Home Depot. Instead, we have three entrances fighting to turn east or west on Smith Valley. With Walmart increasing traffic in this area, it will only be worse. In reality, they need a stoplight at this intersection.”
Angie Smith, with the Carefree Crime Watch Team, expressed concern about what the increased traffic will do in the neighborhood, specifically with drivers who use their neighborhood as a means to cut through traffic between County Line and Smith Valley roads. She compares these possible concerns to traffic problems already experienced in trouble intersections in Carefree North with motorists already disregarding safety measures taken there.
“Anyone can travel from County Line Road to Smith Valley Road cutting through Carefree North and South neighborhoods. The intersection at Fairview is exceptionally dangerous when trying to get out of the neighborhood. Even though there is a four-way stop, people blow through the stop signs without stopping. With increased traffic flow from Walmart, how will our streets be redesigned to increase our safety and ability to get around?”
County commissioners ignore request for helpMembers of the Johnson County government have been approached regarding these concerns expressed by affected residents and questions as to what the county intends to do to anticipate these problems.
When approached regarding the issue, Johnson County Commissioner Brian Baird says, “I will have to defer to the city of Greenwood and Highway Director Luke Mastin, on this issue. I’m not familiar with this matter. I have been assigned two major projects that have 2014 deadlines on them, and will be focused on them for now.”
Similarly when approached for questions about this construction, Johnson County Commissioner Ron West deferred the question to Mastin. Mastin and the county highway department are under the control of the county commissioners. The highway department cannot take on a project of this magnitude without the permission of the commissioners.
When asked what he could do to help his constituents with their concerns, West’s response was, “Luke Mastin is the highway department director and he can best answer your questions.”
However, Mastin responded to questions as to what the county will do to alleviate the concerns of county residents affected by this construction. “The proposed Walmart project is located within the city limits of Greenwood and is subject only to the reviews, requirements and approvals outlined in the city of Greenwood’s development processes,” says Mastin. “The county highway department only has jurisdiction over roadways in the unincorporated areas of the county, so no county review or approval is required, or even applicable, for this project.”
The response from county government has left the residents of Carefree and other affected residential and business areas without any recourse.
Caught in the middle
Anita Knowles represents the residents in Carefree South on the Johnson County Council. Knowles agrees that this situation is a troublesome one for all involved. With Smith Valley Road being in the Greenwood jurisdiction only up to a certain point on the west side of State Road 135 up to the Shepherds Grove subdivision, the residents in neighborhoods outside of the city limits, like Carefree, are the ones who are negatively affected.
A review of the final annexation of Shepherds Grove, located south of Carefree and west of the new development, shows that a few parcels north of Smith Valley Road, owned by the county commissioners, were also included in the annexation. This effectively eliminated the county’s control of this portion of the road and left the residents of Carefree without representation or recourse on the proposed changes. Had the county not agreed to these properties being included in the annexation, the commissioners would have been able to influence the design and represent its constituents.
“Unfortunately, the Carefree residents do not live in the city of Greenwood, yet they will be the ones that face this traffic nightmare,” says Knowles. “The residents have no representation [elected officials] with the city of Greenwood. And, the county, which is where Carefree residents live, has no jurisdiction along this particular stretch of roadway since it belongs to the city of Greenwood.”
This situation happens when areas along borders of cities and towns are annexed and commercial development follows the annexation. Residents not living in the city or within the city or town limits do not have the resources or voice that city residents would have.
Knowles said her understanding is that these plans are already in motion, leaving little time or opportunity to make their appeal.
“The best-case scenario for these residents would have been to become involved with the entire planning process with the city of Greenwood and the plans with Walmart so they could try to help their situation,” says Knowles. “But not many people do this.”
A local group, White River Citizens United, organized a large effort in the past to stop construction of a Walmart along State Road 135 at Olive Branch Road. They organized homeowners’ associations and asked for donations, hiring an attorney to help them fight. “It was nothing against Walmart,” says Knowles. “It was to stop a bad planning idea that would have been in the city of Greenwood, yet we would be the ones to deal with all the increased traffic.”
“Because this deal on Smith Valley is already done, it’s going to be very difficult now for Carefree residents to do anything about it,” says Knowles. “As I understand it, there were already traffic studies done, so they knew what road improvements would be needed for the additional traffic. But, again, the residents could have become involved and perhaps offered up their own traffic study or done research themselves so they might offer the idea of the roundabout.”
Knowles suggests residents speak with an attorney about how roadway planning would help or at the very least speak with the Greenwood City Council members. However, she is uncertain as to how much success residents will have with an attorney now that roadway planning is final.
“This road is in the city limits as I said, so there is someone that will be representing this area. The residents in Carefree don’t live in the city limits, but they should be heard by these elected officials,” says Knowles.
Alaina Sullivan is an attorney and freelance writer in Indiana. She focuses her legal work on providing free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney and is passionate in writing about legal issues and news in the non-profit industry.