$108 million is a lot of money, especially for roughly four and a half miles of asphalt trail. However, when you start adding underpasses with LED systems, buying land rights, building barriers to block buildings, adding statues and art structures, creating entertainment centers for teens, create access from side roads, build risen platforms for viewing planes or “getting engaged”, or do a variety of other ideas that have been suggested for the trail, then the costs start adding up.
The original cost of the trail within Fishers was $4.4 plus some additional costs for road crossings. A couple hundred thousand was also planned for track removal. This is the number that as of today is still posted on the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs.
Recently, the city released a study indicating the incremental cost of doing both a trail and tracks. Being that the tracks already exist, it is really should be a study about showing the incremental cost of adding a trial while keeping the tracks! While the city had time and money to pull together this comprehensive report, they have been unable up to this point to provide a similar plan to what the trail along is going to cost. Being that they have already approved a tax increase for the trail, it is worth wondering why a similar plan had not already been done for the trail alone.
Being that the plan for the trail alone has not been made public, and being that no such plan can be provided when requested, we are left speculating the cost on our own. It is clear based on the fact that the city has already indicated that the initial cost of the first of three phases will be over $10 million, that the $4.4 million online is bogus, even though the FAQs still list it.
If you look at the Nickel Plate master plan, you’ll see that the original estimate was complete fantasy. While the plan doesn’t necessarily state that the items it contains will ever be constructed, the fact that they are included implies they will be. In addition to what is in the plan, there are also other costs that have been overlooked, such as adding sidewalks from the side roads at 106th and at 131st to get to the trail. With creeks and other obstacles, these side sidewalks will come with high price tags as well.
Taking a look at the plans, here are a few high ticket items that will skyrocket the price:
- At 96th Street, a raised sidewalk leading to a raised platform and bridge over 96th Street, which is a major intersection requiring serious bridge work.
- The plan shows a visitor center as a connector to the trail as well. This doesn’t exist, so while it isn’t part of the trail, it will be an addition multi-million dollar cost to Fishers and the tax payers.
- The road crossing at Hague near 96th Street is a relatively high traffic road, a standard crosswalk will be done instead of going over or under. However, the plan shows a crosswalk with “container gateways,” seating and place making, and LED lighting built into the ground for lighting. This along with the landscaping will create additional costs.
- Trail nodes, shelters, pull off zones, and other special elements will be additional costs that go way above the asphalt.
- The addition of restrooms, water for dogs, hang out areas, and features such as swings are also presented in the plan.
- Just South of 106th is an Art Park by the Scale-Up Plaza and additional small park listing. This is all surrounded by the new Hub and Spoke and other buildings, so from the plan, these items seems less like a community part and more like a feature of the businesses in that area.
- The initial $10 million might already account for the costs of the play ground and sensory garden between 106th and 116th as well as the trail plaza, underpass, underpass ramp, and trail commons area in the downtown area. One thing that is clear based on the plan is that the downtown section will be shadowed by buildings on both sides including at least 3 parking garages. The Cove, the LED lighting, the tiered seating, the cultural commons, and the sculptures and innovation coves will all need to be paid for.
- In the Tech area of Fishers, there are plans shown for a boardwalk, outdoor working pavilions, hammocks (over water), umbrella power stations, a meet-up environment with tables and chairs, and a ‘beach’ area.
- Further north, there are proposed recreation courts and a teen center. This teen hangout could include a multi-level building including game courts as well as an obstacle course.
- An education center that includes a tree house and art wall.
- nature centers that provide overlooks (although I’m not sure to what)
- Parking lots along the trail.
- Possible power and data WiFi hubs as well as lighting and power.
- And so much more…
When you add all of these items together along with the base cost of the tail, the number starts growing astronomically. The city has not committed to doing everything in the master plan; however, they did present the plan. As such, without serious disclaimers, an expectation is being set. Will it cost $108 million? I was told it by a city council member that it wouldn’t come close to $30 million. He implied it would be much less, but in seeing a plan without numbers, I’m wondering if he really meant it was going to go way over that amount!
My number of $108 million is pulled out of the air; however, it is more likely at this point than the published number from the city, which was the $4.4 million. At $108 million, that is about $1,100 per person or roughly $4,500 for a family of four. That’s a lot higher than the $170 cost originally implied for a family of four.
While grants could pay for some of this, that is unknown at this time. Without a budget and with the city showing they are willing to raise taxes to get what they want, it seems like the checkbook is open and a blank check has been signed.
You and I, the residents of Fishers, will be left to pay the tab when it comes due, starting with the increase in our upcoming property taxes. In reviewing my property taxes, it seems the only area where the rates increased were with the city. Unless something changes, I expect that increasing city taxes will become a trend.
I would love to have this trail and all it offers. However, like all things I pay for, I want to know the cost up-front so I can compare it to other opportunities, such as adding sidewalks to some of our major streets, adding more SROs to our schools, fixing pot holes, or adding parks to other parts of the city. I’ve said it before, raising taxes and starting a project this big without having a budget or spending cap is fiscally irresponsible.
Is $108 million the estimated cost for the trial? The number is pulled out of the air, so it is highly doubtful. Having said that, it is much more likely to be $108 million than the number that has been posted in the Nickel Plate Trail FAQs.