An effort by City Councilman Mike Fagan to force a public vote on the controversial Monroe Street “road diet” project was put on hold Monday.
Fagan’s resolution calling for a four-lane road with intermittent turn lanes on the 1.1-mile stretch of Monroe from Indiana to Kiernan avenues was sent back to committee over concerns about how that configuration would affect funding for the project.
Tabling the resolution, supported by all members of the council but Fagan, ensures the issue won’t come before the panel until after ballots have been sent out for this year’s council races.
The project has become a political campaign issue pushed by a business group opposing the lane reduction.
Fagan said his motives weren’t political, and that he was pushing for a vote to ensure there was time for city planning staff to create a new four-lane plan for the street.
“The clock is ticking, in my mind,” Fagan said. He pitched the resolution to council members as a way to avoid a potential $15 million lawsuit threatened by some business owners who allege they’ll lose business before and after the roadwork.
The roadwork, scheduled to take place over a seven-month period next year, includes $4.6 million in state and federal safety grants to reduce the number of lanes from five to three. Council members said they wanted an update on how Fagan’s proposal would change how the project is funded before taking a vote.
“I think it would be disingenuous to the citizens to say we can make any changes, or redo that street, without understanding the financial commitments that we’ve made, and the grants we’ve received,” said City Councilwoman Amber Waldref.
Scott Simmons, the city’s public works director, said a large portion of the grant money was tied directly to the number of lanes on the street. Returning to a four-lane configuration would disqualify the city from using the money.
“We wouldn’t have even went out and asked for the grant, because we wouldn’t have got it,” Simmons said.
Fagan said he was looking into whether money from a street levy passed by voters in 2014 could be used for the work on the street, which under the resolution would be limited to beautification efforts, speed reduction and expanding sidewalks.
“That’s exactly what the street levy was passed for,” Fagan said.
City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear defended the decision to table the resolution, which won’t be heard until at least an Oct. 23 meeting of the council’s committee overseeing public works projects. Any vote would have to occur after that.
“We don’t have all the information,” she said.
A billboard funded by the business association opposing the project targeted Breean Beggs and Candace Mumm, who are up for re-election this year. Their opponents in the election have seized upon the controversy as evidence the council and City Hall aren’t working in harmony with property owners on roadwork and are spending money on road projects they argue aren’t necessary.
Beggs said planning for the Monroe work occurred before he was appointed to the council last year, but he hadn’t heard enough opposition to consider halting the project.
“I think you should make adjustments in real time, but I haven’t personally been convinced that I should work super hard to stop the Monroe Street project at this point,” Beggs said. “It’s not in my district, and most of the people I talk to want it.”
Mumm said she’d been told by city planners and engineers that Fagan’s four-lane proposal wasn’t possible. She said her focus is ensuring the businesses along Monroe have the city’s support during next year’s planned construction.
“At this point, it’s not a matter of do I (support it) or don’t I (support it),” Mumm said of the project. “It is what it is. It’s going forward.”
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