Federal program a no-go for McCordsville underpass

McCordsville officials and others argue an underpass at the tracks in town is important to the development of the Mt. Comfort Corridor. File photo

McCORDSVILLE — Officials are no longer considering pursuing a federal program for an underpass beneath the town’s railroad tracks in light of their congressional representatives opposing the funding mechanism.

But they’re not giving up on a solution for the traffic-clogging crossing on Mt. Comfort Road near Broadway Street in the heart of town, estimated to cost over $40 million.

Town leaders had been exploring whether the project would make a good fit for Community Project Funding, Congress’ recent revival of earmarks — a practice in which lawmakers direct federal spending to a specific project or institution back home. The town had even been asking entities if they’d be willing to share the cost of a lobbyist to advocate for the project (contrary to an article that ran last month in the Daily Reporter, which incorrectly reported that the lobbyist was being hired).

Many Republicans in Congress, including those representing the area, don’t want anything to do with Community Project Funding, however.

“We’re still looking for funding,” said Tonya Galbraith, McCordsville town manager. “That doesn’t seem to be one of the pots we can get to, but we’re still looking for funding.”

The office of Rep. Greg Pence, R-Indiana, whose district includes McCordsville, told the Daily Reporter last month that Community Project Funding is too reminiscent of “the earmark era of pet projects and pork barrel spending.”

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, tweeted in March that he’s “absolutely against” the program.

“You can’t let any individual senator put pork into spending bills,” Braun said. “That’s how it used to work even before we had trillion-dollar deficits. Imagine what it would look like now.”

Politico reported last week that Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, is undecided on the funding mechanism.

Regardless, the deadline to submit projects for funding consideration was late last month. According to a story Friday, May 14, in The Washington Post, more than 300 House Republicans and Democrats are seeking nearly $21 billion in funding for projects, resurrecting a mechanism of so-called “earmarks” that once was so maligned Congress dismantled it. About half of House Republicans and all but one Democrat have put in requests.

Galbraith said the town is investigating other potential federal and state funding opportunities.

One is Indiana’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI, which has $500 million for programs, initiatives and projects that neighboring counties, cities and towns partner on.

The town is considering possible partners and determining whether the funds could be used for regional infrastructure, which Galbraith added Mt. Comfort Road certainly is.

“The sticking point for getting traffic flowing down the corridor is right there,” Galbraith said of the railroad crossing, where a train passes nearly once an hour and lasts an average of nearly three minutes.

Large developments and plans for more have been picking up along and near Mt. Comfort Road over the past couple years. The corridor also includes an Interstate 70 interchange and Indianapolis Regional Airport. Along with McCordsville, the towns of New Palestine and Cumberland aren’t far from the road.

There may also be funding opportunities through the Indiana Department of Transportation and Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, Galbraith said.

She added she’s noticed a rising emphasis on infrastructure lately, which she finds encouraging.

“It just seems like people in high places are focusing on infrastructure needs, so we just want to be a part of that conversation,” she said.