A new conceptual design for College Avenue and Walnut Street—from the 45/46 bypass to Allen Street—is supposed to be delivered to the city of Bloomington by the end of 2023.
Allen Street is south of the place where College and Walnut merge into a single street—it’s a bit north of Switchyard Park.
The conceptual redesign for the corridor is just one of the elements that Toole Design Group is supposed to provide under a $170,000 contract that was approved by Bloomington’s board of public works last Wednesday.
The contract with Toole was approved on a rare non-unanimous vote by the three-member board.
Board president Kyla Cox Deckard abstained after wondering how Toole would handle the fact that it had already made a recommendation in 2018 for the corridor—to convert College and Walnut to two-way traffic.
The recommendation for two-way traffic was a part of Toole’s work consulting for the city on Bloomington’s transportation plan. The two-way recommendation did not survive in the version of the transportation plan that was recommended by the city plan commission to the city council for adoption.
Besides the conceptual design, other elements that Toole is supposed to provide as a part of the corridor study include: an implementation strategy with cost estimates for design and construction; several presentations to public officials at public meetings as well as public engagement; and a document that includes the conceptual design, a summary of public engagement, and traffic analysis.
On Wednesday, it was Bloomington’s assistant director of planning and transportation, Beth Rosenbarger, who gave the staff presentation about the contract to the board of public works. She described how the city received seven responses to its request for information (RFI). Two finalists were identified by a city team and two firms were interviewed, Rosenbarger said. It was that process that led to the choice of Toole Design Group, LLC for the contract, Rosenbarger said.
To lead off deliberations last Wednesday, board of public works president Kyla Cox Deckard asked Rosenbarger: “Has the city Bloomington worked with Toole on any projects like this, like a study project, in the past?”
It was Toole that had worked on the city’s transportation plan in 2018, Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard.
The transportation plan was eventually adopted by the city council in July 2019. According to the city of Bloomington online financial system, Toole Design Group was paid $124,900 for its work on Bloomington’s transportation plan.
Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard on Wednesday that no representatives from Toole were available to answer questions, but that Rosenbarger could forward Cox Deckard’s questions to the firm.
The back-and-forth between Rosenbarger and Cox Deckard drew out the fact that Bloomington’s plan commission in 2018 had altered one of Toole’s recommendations in a draft of the plan.
Toole’s 2018 recommendation was to convert the College Avenue and Walnut Street pair—which are currently each one-way streets—to two-way traffic. In November 2018, the plan commission amended the transportation plan to remove Toole’s recommendation for two-way traffic on College and Walnut.
In 2018, Toole also recommended that the College-Walnut corridor needed to be studied further. Last Wednesday’s $170,000 contract is for Toole’s recommended further study of the corridor.
Given that background, Cox Deckard wondered how Toole would handle the process of studying the corridor now, given the plan commission’s removal of Toole’s 2018 recommendation for two-way traffic on the streets in the corridor.
Rosenbarger told Cox Deckard that from the staff’s perspective the work is being done based on a “goals based design.” Rosenbarger said, “As a community…there’s a list of things that we want to achieve by doing a corridor study, and a conceptual design of our streets.”
Rosenbarger continued: “So we want to bring people together and talk about: If we look at different design options, how do each of those measure up to these goals and to what we want to achieve as a community?”
Cox Deckard pressed again the question of how Toole would be able to study the corridor, given that the firm had already made a recommendation for two-way traffic on College and Walnut.
Rosenbarger said over 100 people work for Toole, so it would not necessarily be the same staff who worked on the 2018 transportation plan. Rosenbarger described them as “professionals who specialize in street design, in achieving goals and values through street design.”
Rosenbarger said, “If there’s a concern that because this is the firm that did the transportation plan [that means] there’s only one answer, we don’t think there’s only one answer.”
Rosenbarger concluded, “We want to explore the options, have a community conversation, and look at our goals as a community and different ways to achieve those goals.”