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Dozens attend open house on State Boulevard project

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 6:20 am

Dozens of people attended an open house Monday on the proposed widening of State Boulevard – but few of them seemed to have changed their minds after seeing the plans up close.

About 70 concerned Fort Wayne residents, both for and against the project, packed a Franke Park pavilion for about two hours to look at design drawings and voice their opinions to city traffic planners.

As proposed by city officials, the project would widen State to four lanes, with a center turn lane at some spots, between Spy Run Avenue and Cass Street. It also would soften a sharp curve, raise the street several feet and replace the old bridge over the Spy Run Creek.

Opponents of the project, such as City Councilman John Shoaff, D-at large, fear that a wider State Boulevard will turn into a major east-west arterial route for trucks and higher-speed traffic, hurting the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods.

“They should be trying to decrease (traffic) if anything,” Shoaff said. “I'm not happy with what I'm seeing. There are alternatives that don't need to involve four- or five-lane arteries.”

But city traffic officials, who say 90 percent of affected neighborhood residents support the project, deny that they intend to create a high-speed arterial route.

While a long-term regional traffic plan once called for State to accommodate trucks, that plan is being amended, said Bob Kennedy, city director of public works. And the city always has the final say in which parts of a regional plan to implement, he said.

“It's absolutely not going to be a truck route,” said Kennedy, who dismissed the idea as “innuendo” spread by opponents of the project. “It's never been planned as a truck route.”

Several neighborhood residents said they would welcome the wider, straighter boulevard, which would be realigned to run just south of the current street, leaving the historic curve intact as a neighborhood street.

Sharon Bryan said her mother, who has lived in the 100 block of East State for 60 years, has trouble backing her car into the narrow street from her driveway.

“This project is really going to impact how she gets out of her driveway right now,” Bryan said. “She has waited for this project, and she hopes she sees it.”

Rick Stoeckley, president of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, said his neighborhood association initially opposed the project because residents felt the city designed it without seeking any input from the public.

But the neighborhood has since decided to support it because city officials have reached out to residents and provided more information, Stoeckley said.

“It looks a hell of a lot better than it does now,” Stoeckley said of the design drawings on display at the open house.

The city has proposed features such as a landscaped median and historical-style street lamps in an effort to reduce the project's negative impact on the historic neighborhood. But those efforts haven't changed the minds of some opponents.

“I haven't seen anything new,” said Paul Gibson, an Irvington Park resident. “Had a big stink not been made, I don't think they would have included the trees and lamps and all that.”

City Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, said a vast majority of his State Boulevard-area constituents still oppose the project. Because of that, Jehl said he will continue to oppose the project. But he said the open house provided a good chance for residents to weigh the facts for themselves.

“Something like this needs to be shown, not just told about,” Jehl said. “Then people can make up their own minds.”

The city will host two more open houses to gather input on the project. They are scheduled for:

• 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday at Meeting Room A, Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza

• 5-7 p.m. March 7, at the Psi Ote Barn, Bob Arnold Northside Park, East State Boulevard and Parnell Avenue