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Local Legislators Discuss Issues To Be Introduced This Session

Today was the deadline for lawmakers to file bills in the state legislature, and some local representatives are already preparing for a big debate over education funding.

At a forum on January 10, legislators from the Monroe County area said money for schools would be one the biggest issues this legislative session. The officials spoke at a legislative update sponsored by the local League of Women Voters.

State Rep. Matt Pierce (D) whose district includes most of Bloomington said both major political parties agree there should be changes to the formula the state uses to fund public schools.

“You have rural, suburban and urban schools that often have stable or declining enrollments,” Pierce said. “The question is, how will the formula impact those schools? Some schools have more kids from poverty and usually more money is gevn to those schools to help children that may be struggling with things that get in the way of their learning.”

Under the current funding formula, public schools in Gary and Indianapolis receive larger amounts of funding per pupil than most other districts.

Rep. Matt Ubelhor (R) said he expects some conflict over how the formula is changed.

“I think the one thing as Pierce pointed out that’s going to be critical is the funding formula for schools,” Ubelhor says. “In our caucus one child isn’t worth more than another child, no matter where the go to school.”

The two parties are also expected to disagree on how to fund charter schools and school vouchers. Democrats like Pierce have traditionally opposed the trend toward funding those programs, which draw money away from public schools.

While there is disagreement on education, representatives from both parties seemed to agree more closely about funding for criminal justice programs. Last year the legislature made major changes to the criminal code in hopes of diverting some low-level offenders away from prison. Those offenders are instead supposed to be dealt with on a local level, but Pierce said the state has yet to adequately fund those local programs.

“The issue is will the people crafting the budget put money into those programs so we can get them going,” Pierce says. “I’m a little dismayed because the Governor’s budget hasn’t earmarked money for those programs. And, instead, calls for more money to be spent about $51 million to add new prison beds to the Department of Corrections which doesn’t make any sense because we just passed this bill to get people out of there.”

Ubelhor said he also agreed the state should fund the local programs. Officials in the Monroe County government have voiced public concern in recent months about the issue. The County’s Community Corrections Department expects an influx of offenders to its programs.

Monroe County would also be directly affected by another initiative discussed at the legislative update. State Senator Mark Stoops said he plans to file a bill that would help Bloomington Transit expand its services outside the city.

“We hope to make it more of a regional transit system,” Stoops says. “We want to add an income tax to people in the region that would allow Bloomington and Rural transit to provide routes into the rural communities like Smithville, Elletsville and even hopefully Nashville or Bedford.”

Stoops said the expanded service could be useful to commuters and could reduce traffic on local roads.

Open Streets Event Under Consideration As An ‘Inappropriate Use Of Streets’


An event meant to examine the use of streets to encourage healthy living and community may be denied a permit based on inappropriate use of streets. The Open Streets Bloomington event, scheduled to be held on Sunday, October 5, will be heard at the Board of Public Works meeting September 23, and is expected to face opposition.

Board member Charlotte Zietlow says that the first annual open streets event, held last fall, had a slight bit of opposition, and tonight the three member board will also voice their concerns.

This is the first time the event is coming in front of the board this year, and the final opportunity for approval since the board does not meet again before October 5.

Miah Michaelson, assistant director for the arts for the city of Bloomington economic and sustainable development department, is the supporting staff member for the project.

Michaelson says typically organizations would present their proposals well in advance of their scheduled event.

The proposal for the event includes closing 7th street from the B Line into the near west side neighborhood at Elm Street to traffic for the majority of the day.  Open street organizers expressed concern today through Facebook postings and a message that went out to the near west side neighborhood association that there event would not get approved, and that the board might not understand exactly what it is the event is trying to do.

“They’re proposing to close those streets off and as I understand it the idea is to get cars off the streets and use the streets as a type of playground,” Zietlow says, “I gather that the intent is to see what we could do if there were no cars on the streets. So the question arises is ‘Why do we have streets?’”

The open streets website differentiates the international open streets movement, from other events that typically block streets like art fairs, charity runs, and parades, stating the benefits of an open streets event to be about encouraging physical activity, broadening transportation choices, and encouraging economic development.

Michaelson said she could not think of a direct economic impact the event would have as it is not a ticketed event and there are not good being sold.

Zietlow also mentioned that the event does not support a charity the way other street closure events tend to do. The afternoon media campaign by the organizers of open streets seemed to already be having an effect, Zietlow said she was starting to hear from the public in support of the event.

“I’ve gotten three or four emails supporting it, and this is unusual for the things we act on,” Zietlow says. “There are other questions asking if this is a legitimate use of streets because there’s not charitable group this event is raising money for.”

The open streets event is set to coincide with a day long celebration of cycling at the Buskirk Chumley Theater, and was the recipient of the proceeds that came from the $12,000 raised at the clips of faith film festival in Bryan Park this summer.

The hearing regarding the open streets events will take place at the board of public works meeting September 23.

I-69 Construction Erosion Problems In Bloomington Go Unanswered From INDOT

Bloomington and Monroe County officials pushed for answers June 13 about erosion problems that have persisted for more than a year along the planned route of Interstate 69.

The policy committee of the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization submitted questions months ago to the Indiana Department of Transportation. They asked about contaminated waterways along section 4 of the interstate, which has been under construction since last year. INDOT sent a written response earlier this month, but committee member Cheryl Munson said it was incomplete.

“I had a number of questions about that response and was disappointed we couldn’t have a discussion with a representative,” Munson says. “The points that bothered me most were the statements INDOT sent rather than answers to questions.”

An INDOT official, Janelle Lemon, was scheduled to respond to the committee’s questions during a presentation May 9. But that presentation never happened.

Committee member Scott Wells said he was disappointed with INDOT’s treatment of the issue. Wells has contended for months the state is not using the right erosion control methods to prevent contamination.

“It’s unfortunate and disconcerting that the people we want to be here aren’t here,” Wells says.

Residents along the path of the interstate have reported erosion problems throughout the state. As construction is set to begin in Bloomington later this summer, mayor Mark Kruzan said he wants to see more details from the state about how they are addressing the problem.

“Is there anything being brought up in writing, verbally, in presentations, emails or meetings, where INDOT looks at this and says, here are things that have been alleged and we think yes this is valid and we’re working on it or no this isn’t us,” Kruzan explains.

Kruzan went on to suggest how the MPO could force the state to listen to the local concerns.

“I don’t think that just because someone doesn’t attend a meeting that they’re guilty of anything,” Kruzan says. “But obviously with this much notice, there’s no reason for them not to be here at the other meeting. If that happens, I certainly will be moving to table all the requests INDOT makes from MPO until we get answers to all of those bullet points that we have.”

Construction on Section 5 of the interstate is expected to begin by September. That section will run from Bloomington to Martinsville.

Contractor for I-69 section through Monroe County announced

The Indiana Department of Transportation has announced the winning contractor to finance, build, and maintain section 5 of the new interstate running through Monroe County. Section 5 of I-69 stretches from the south side of Bloomington to Martinsville. Sections 1 through 3, connecting Evansville with the Crane Military base, is complete and in operation. Section 4, from Crane and intersecting with State Road 37 just south of Bloomington, is under construction. The contracting consortium for Section 5 is called I-69 Development Partners. Will Wingfield, from the Office of Communications at the Indiana Department of Transportation, elaborates on the contract.

“The lead company is from Spain and has partnered with local contractors to do the work necessary to build and maintain I-69,” Wingfield says.

Isolux Infrastructures is part of Isolux-Corsan, a multi-national, privately-held company based in Spain, with operations primarily in Latin America but also in the U.S., and several billion euros in annual income. Now Indiana will add to these receipts.

“The private company will finance the product,” Wingfield says, “The idea behind that is that it allows us to do the project more quickly and realize the benefits of it. I know there’s been a concern about safety in Bloomington once I-69 opens and some of those payments are towards overpasses in that area.”

According to the Associated Press the contract for Section 5 stipulates that the state will make an initial $80 million down payment to the contractor and, once complete, pay it $21.8 million a year for 35 years, for a total of $407 million. The estimated cost to the contractor for Section 5 is $325 million. Wingfield did not confirm or deny these figures, but stated that the final terms of the deal are still to be worked out. None of the three sub-contracting firms are based in Bloomington or Martinsville, the anchors of Section 5.

“There were some local companies that submitted proposals, but our reason for a competitive proposal process is to get innovative ideas, the best technical solutions, and of course to get the lowest cost,” Wingfield says, “The highest scoring proposal was the lowest cost proposal that also met all the requests.”

Wingfield says he is unaware of any local companies that may be included in the construction contract. He anticipates that construction on Section 5 of I-69 will begin later this year, and open for traffic by the end of 2016.

Bloomington Transit Contracts Local Artists To Beautify New Downtown Transit Center


Bloomington Transit announced it has awarded contracts for exterior design and art work for the new Downtown Transit Center, which is currently under construction on Third and Walnut in downtown Bloomington.

Local architect Matt Ellenwood was selected for the facility’s exterior benches and bicycle racks.

His design was selected as the winning entry from among thirteen entrants in a national competition sponsored by the Bloomington Arts Commission.

“We’re planning on having 22 bike racks scattered throughout the facility,” Lew May, general manager of Bloomington Transit, says, “Any kind of transit facility needs places for people to sit and wait for the bus, so we will have those as well.”

Ellenwood’s designs are said to reference the curves found in the Transit Center’s canopy design, as well as the wheels of buses and bicycles. The benches and bike racks will be fabricated locally by Jerico Metal Specialties.

In addition to the bike racks, there is planned to be around a half-dozen secure bicycle lockers at the new facility.

The Arts Commision also chose artist Dale Enochs to create a mural for the west wall of the center. The mural, entitled “Breakaway”, is comprised of overlapping wheel shapes. The mural will be fabricated from powder-coated, hand-painted aluminum shapes that attach directly to the wall. The majority of the aluminum shapes will stand slightly away from the Center’s wall, in order to create shadow lines around the individual pieces. The mural will be approximately 22 feet wide and six feet tall.

May says decisions have not been made on the future of the current, soon-to-be abandoned Transit Center and that it is hoped that the new transit center will open to the public by late Spring of this year.

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