Warsaw seeking ways to reduce train congestion

by Dan Spalding

Trains have been criss-crossing through Warsaw for decades, but the city will soon know which east-west crossing might be best suited to construct an underpass or overpass near the downtown.

City Planner Jeremy Skinner said Monday the city will receive a report from American StructurePoint, an Indianapolis-based engineering firm, this summer that will analyze options to overcome traffic delays caused by trains chugging north and south along the Norfolk Southern rail line just east of the downtown business district.

If the city embraces the idea, a construction project would still be years – if not decades – away  and the study is one in many steps along that path.

Among other things, the study is looking at a series of crossings that include Winona Avenue, Market Street and Center Street to determine which road might be best suited for an underpass or overpass, Skinner said.

While the train delays already cause inconveniences for motorists, Skinner said he doesn’t think the current conditions merit spending upward of $30 million right now for an underpass or overpass.

But at the same time, Skinner says the latest projections suggest the city will see more train traffic and street traffic in coming years.

“At some point in time, the traffic numbers along Center Street are going to hit that point where it’s justifiable,” Skinner said following a redevelopment meeting Monday.

“It’s hard to justify that right now for a five-minute wait, but if you’re waiting 20 minutes, 30 minutes, it’s a lot easier to justify.”

As the city waits for the report, it’s also in the midst of expanding an economic development zone that could one day be “one of the components” used to pay for the project, Skinner said.

The city will host a series of meetings beginning next month that are needed to expand the “Central” tax increment finance district, which currently includes City Hall and property to the north along Buffalo Street as well as Zimmer Biomet’s headquarters and Central Park.

Under the current plan, the district would be expanded to the north along North Detroit Street, further to the south and also to the east past the railroad tracks.

Skinner said the city is looking at multiple projects that could fall within the scope of the district and a railroad-related project could be one of them.

TIF districts are tools for economic development and capture new property taxes from new development and then set those funds aside for infrastructure and other uses that spur economic development.

The plan would be initiated by the city redevelopment commission and would require the support of the plan commission and city council.

The first step is tentatively set for May 1 when the redevelopment commission will vote to adopt a resolution to amend the Redevelopment Area Plan.

A public hearing on it is tentatively set for the June 6 commission meeting.

The central district was established in 1990 and was used when Zimmer built its headquarters and the city established Central Park.

The district was expanded in 2008 to accommodate the Buffalo Street development, which begins this spring. It was also expanded in 2011 to include and help pay for the new city hall.

According to an annual report recapping the city’s TIF district finances, over the next three years, the central district will have an estimated $945,000 in revenue and a total debt obligation of $391,475. Much of that money will be used to pay for new infrastructure along Buffalo Street near Center Lake as well as a public plaza near the lake.

The city has looked at expanding the district north along North Detroit Street in the past, but was prompted by two businesses along North Detroit that would like to establish a riverfront district that would allow them to seek a riverfront development district liquor license.

Skinner noted that the city is not approving the alcohol license, but is setting the stage for the businesses to seek them.

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