Chesterton Tribune

Beach traffic jams causing headaches in Porter; town looks at solutions

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Proposed plans to build a roundabout and modify travel lanes on Indiana 49 north of Oak Hill Road haven’t been approved yet, but Memorial Day weekend saw major traffic back-ups waiting to get into Dunes State Park with the current lanes still in place.

Frustrated motorists caused problems for Town of Porter residents, especially at Porter Beach, and extra work for Porter’s Police Department.

Police chief James Spanier told the Town Council on Tuesday, “It got out of control before we got to it. It was gridlock for a little bit.”

To avoid similar problems this season, the council approved Spanier’s plan to station a reserve officer as a temporary special officer in a marked police vehicle at Porter Beach every Saturday and Sunday. An additional officer also would be designated as on-call for beach duty those days.

The town’s Metropolitan Police Commission will consider the proposal next week.

The council’s involvement was unanimously to commit up to $10,000 for the extra duty hours in the event the Police budget runs short of money at year’s end.

Council president Trevin Fowler opened the meeting by asking the community’s patience as the town works with Indiana Dunes tourism, the state park, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Department of Transportation to develop a solution.

The state park has reduced travel lanes from four to two at its new gatehouse, and the INDOT bridges on Indiana 49 nearing completion at U.S. 20 and U.S. 12 also went from four to two lanes to make room for a planned bike trail.

During public comment Porter resident Karen Pisowicz said she thought building commissioner Art Elwood was supposed to be a weekend beach patrol officer like former building commissioner Brenda Brueckheimer was during her tenure. Elwood said his building responsibilities have grown. “You’re suggesting I work seven days a week.”

Resident Elka Nelson said too much traffic is not just a weekend problem. “It appears to be as much a temperature thing as well as a holiday thing.”

Council member Michele Bollinger said Elwood can better serve residents as building commissioner. Hiring a special beach officer “is a perfect solution,” she stated.

Later in the meeting consultant A.J. Monroe of SEH was present to answer council questions about the town’s planned Gateway to the Indiana Dunes tourism/economic development initiative that calls for major changes along Indiana 49 north and south of U.S. 20. The project primarily is funded with a $19 million grant.

The only question was councilman Dave Babcock’s about the traffic back-ups. “So it doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix.”

“No,” replied Monroe. “It would have happened. People have been talking about it forever.” He said studies show typically about 15 to 18 days a year result in traffic problems south of U.S. 12 due to state park visitors.

Monroe also said INDOT and the U.S. Department of Transportation have yet to give final approval to Indiana 49 modifications tied to the Gateway plan so it’s too early to draft final redesign plans for review.

The ultimate solution, said Monroe, is to get state park visitors to change their behavior and not wait in line in idling vehicles; off-site parking or access by South Shore trains, both with shuttle service to the park, have been proposed and a shuttle’s estimated cost established but no entity or coalition has come forward to sponsor and fund it.

Involved stakeholders including Porter officials are meeting to make some tough decisions, added Monroe, but until then when one car leaves the state park, another one will be let it.

The council took no action to amend the Gateway plan into the Porter comprehensive plan. Town code requires such action must wait until the July 12 meeting unless a special one is called.

In other business Tuesday:

• The council postponed a decision at member Todd Martin’s request so he has more time to check out clerk-treasurer Carol Pomeroy’s proposal to spend $3,000 in sewer funds to buy two software programs; one would automatically post, open a cash drawer and provide receipts for Porter sewer bills paid at the town hall, and the other would permit sewer bills to be paid online. Martin wanted to be sure there weren’t hidden expenses for the town.

• Three public assembly permits were approved: for the Chesterton Art Fair at Porter’s Hawthorne Park Aug. 6/7; for the Village Tavern July 3; and the Village again July 23 as a fundraiser for the Porter Fire Department.

• The council unanimously entered into a contract with the Porter Fire Department firefighters retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011 and extending to Dec. 31, 2012.

• Approved under suspension of the rules were amendments to the 2007 ordinance regulating transient vendors, peddlers and food-stand operators. Among the updates are that vendor employees each pay $15 and agree to a criminal background check; if approved, town-issued identification will be provided.

• Elwood said a mold-infested home in the Dune Meadows subdivision was remediated and is being cleaned for restoration; moss, not mold, on the exterior, will be washed off. Basement water in another home in the subdivision also is being addressed.

• Director of engineering Matt Keiser said the downtown manhole project is wrapping up, to be followed by a sewer reline there during which roads won’t have to be cut. He and Public Works superintendent Brueckheimer said the new manholes have cut water infiltration during rain events reducing flows for sewage treatment and minimizing overflows.

• Brueckheimer urged residents to check out the town website www.townofporter.com

to view what yard-waste items trash hauler Able Disposal will take. She also said an agreement with Chesterton was signed to jointly pave Woodlawn Avenue, but the Local 150 Operating Engineers labor strike is impacting asphalt plants.

• Councilman Jon Granat said plans are firming up for the day-long July 4 community festival at Hawthorne Park.

 

 

Posted 6/15/2011