By JOY BROWN
Downtown Findlay’s proposed traffic plan, forged by professional firms and a community committee, is expected to evolve with community input, officials said Monday.
Via three public meetings scheduled for Wednesday, and through opinions directed to individual city administrators and City Council, the existing rough draft will be altered, Mayor Lydia Mihalik said.
It will then be presented to council members, who will decide whether to allow the administration to apply for a grant to move the project forward.
A solid plan must be in place in order to apply for the Transportation Alternatives Program grant, which allocates construction money for projects that enhance pedestrian access and mobility, “community improvement activities,” and other work it defines as “transportation alternatives.”
The Findlay-Hancock County Alliance has spent $15,000 to hire consultants to develop the initial plan that is now being discussed.
Assistant Economic Development Director Tim Mayle said LSL Planning, a multi-state company, was hired to perform a traffic study that generated vehicle counts and other statistics being used to support some of the proposed ideas. A traffic engineer from DLZ Consulting, another multi-state firm, and an architect from Gossman Group, Cincinnati, were also retained, he said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation “has been very involved with the project. They have approved the letter of interest sent to them in early February,” Mayle said. “Our committee has leaned on their past experiences to understand what makes a competitive (grant) application.”
Mihalik said the transportation department initially proposed the Main Street reverse-angle parking idea.
“It’s been nice to have them (state) involved in the beginning,” Mihalik said.
Helping develop the plan was the Alliance’s Economic Restructuring Committee, which included 37 individuals representing businesses and organizations ranging from the Hancock Regional Planning Commission to Eof Insurance Agency, according to a list that Mayle provided.
City Council has already set aside $40,000 in capital improvement dollars to support work that’s needed to apply for Transportation Alternatives Program money.
The grant application deadline is May 4, which means council must decide before then whether to authorize the administration to apply. Mihalik said if it does, permission will come in the form of a resolution, which only requires one reading.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer said if council provides the go-ahead, there is about $11 million available statewide in that particular grant pot. Findlay would be requesting up to $2 million to reconfigure traffic patterns and parking on sections of Main and Cory streets. The city would hear by mid-August if it would be a grant recipient, and if so, how much money was coming.
The grant program “provides up to 80 percent of eligible costs for construction only,” ODOT explains.
“Applicants must commit to a 20 percent cash match for construction, which must be currently available and readily accessible.”
The match on a $2 million grant would amount to $400,000.
Marathon Petroleum Corp. has pledged up to $5 million in tax savings from its upcoming $80 million complex expansion to help defray costs. Schmelzer said Marathon’s contribution would be used toward the required match for the grant, and for matching dollars required for other grants the city would pursue to enhance the plan.
Additional attention would be paid to Blanchard Street and Western Avenue, which would accommodate diverted traffic from Main Street.
Intersection upgrades on other nearby streets, and alley improvements to create a better environment for deliveries, would also be targeted, Schmelzer said.
All of those extras would heavily depend on the scope of work planned for Main Street.
As the entire project now stands, Schmelzer estimated it would cost $6 million to complete all the work necessary for a comprehensive traffic pattern and parking overhaul aimed at making the downtown a safer destination.
But “the scope is based upon public input,” Schmelzer said.
If the project moves forward, the goal is to do so without it costing taxpayers one dime more, officials said.
“The plan is to do it with no impact on our capital budget,” Mihalik said.
Winter weather has been predicted for Wednesday, when the Alliance will host three public meetings at the Findlay Inn and Conference Center. A 7:30 a.m. session is meant to receive feedback from business leaders, and a noon meeting will be with the Findlay Young Professionals group.
The main meeting for the general public will begin at 4:30 p.m.
If the weather interferes, Mayle said no alternate date has been planned.