Growth along 500W raises worries about traffic

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NEW PALESTINE — If there’s one road in the western part of the county travelers might want to avoid over the next several months, it’s County Road 500W, the main road into the heart of New Palestine.

Not only is a roundabout being built at the intersection of County Road 300S, which will close the road for most of the summer starting as soon as June 1, but three subdivisions are under construction between County Roads 100S and 300S. That occasionally will create partial closures due to construction and utility work.

And that’s just for now. Once the homes are built, county and New Palestine officials are concerned about the increase of traffic along the two-lane, shoulder-less county road, whose speed limit is 50 mph. County engineer Gary Pool hopes the roundabout will slow traffic. He’s also working to make sure another roundabout is built at the intersection of County Road 200S.

Traffic, he said, will only increase.

“Yeah, we know what this means: More drivers, more accidents,” Pool said.

Major construction — such as widening the road and adding shoulders — will require support in the form of state transportation grants. Unfortunately for county officials, traffic data used to prioritize funding — which is based on volume and the number of accidents — doesn’t yet support a big investment. So there really isn’t anything officials can do until the new subdivisions start filling up.

“We have to prove a need for everything we do,” Pool said. “We can’t ask for money based on speculation regardless of what we know is coming.”

The three new subdivisions along the road will add more than 325 new homes:

–Thorp Farms, at the intersection of 500W and 200S, is selling 25 lots

–Copperstone, located between and 200S and 300S, is selling 240-plus lots

–Centennial North, just north of 200S, is offering 62 lots.

All three will use 500W as their entrances, New Palestine town manager Jim Robinson said.

Complicating the situation is other nearby growth: Builders with Stone Crossing, off County Road 450W near 300S, is planning to add 140 more homes in a new section of the growing neighborhood. Traffic from there is likely to feed onto 500W — also known as Gem Road — as well.

“We’re also working with other developers/home builders on property that could end up on Gem Road,” Robinson said.

County Commissioner Bill Spalding, whose district includes the area, said management of the growth and traffic is approaching a critical point.

“We think the roundabouts will make it safer for the community and the schools here,” Spalding said. “At least right now we’re getting certain intersections cleaned up so they can perform better, and we want to make sure there are at least turn lanes in front of our subdivisions to make things flow on the county roads.”

Few such improvements are in the blueprints for the new subdivisions on 500W.

He added: “Has the growth gotten bigger than we want? Possibly,” Spalding said. “It’s a trying, but a really exciting time with people wanting to come here because of the housing prices and our schools, which has driven some of this growth here.”

Robinson thinks the roundabouts will help, but he’d like to see county officials drop the speed limit to 40 mph from 50 mph on 500W.

“We’re still going to get a large value of traffic regardless of the speed,” Robinson said. “It’s just something we’re going to have to keep our eye on and be aggressive with.”

Robinson noted Copperstone has added a deceleration lane for drivers heading north who are turning right into the subdivision. That will help with traffic flow. But for drivers looking to turn left into any of the three new subdivisions — all of which are on the east side of 500W — no dedicated left-turn lanes are planned.

Officials are hoping the developers will work with them and add turn lanes.

“People are going to need to be patient and watch your speed,” Robinson said. “It’s going to be real easy to jump up to 50 mph and then have to stop for traffic from here on out.”