Will the Fishers Nickel Plate Trail Cost $108 Million?

$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.

Parting comment…
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.

The White River and Fishers

When it comes to the discussions of what is happening with the White River, there are lots of plans being created that stretch from the top of Hamilton County all the way to the bottom of Marion County. With Fishers being in the middle, you’d expect it to be included in the plans.

Fishers is included in the plan, with a lot of changes proposed that include a boat launch, two pedestrian bridges that cross the river, walking trails, and a lot of planned activity ideas. The issue, however, is that this would all be a part of Conner Prairie, and not likely public access. Conner Prairie has a map of their future plans that includes many features that tap into using the river. Once they have made their official public announcement, then I’ll be able to share a diagram showing many of their updates and the expected locations.

As a member of Conner Prairie, I find the bridge, trail, and other ideas to be great improvements; however, it would have been nice to see ideas for White River improvements applied throughout the other areas of Fishers. The Public level of access to the White River from Fishers is minimal, with primary access at 116th Street and South. Ironically, most of the Conner Prairie plans are in Carmel – the West side of the river.

The Fishers City Council is focused on the rail trail and the new park on Geist, but it would be nice to see additional focus put on the White River and the opportunities it offers. Right now, the primary access from Fishers is a boat launch at 116th Street, Heritage Park, and behind the Riverside schools. Adding access to the river at 146th Street would allow a person to canoe, float, or kayak down to 116th or even 96th Street. Additionally, adding easier access to the river at Heritage Park would make it easier to get in and out of the river. It would also open up tubing from 116th Street to Heritage Park.

Outside of Fishers, there are a lot of popular destinations on the river. I mentioned many of the parks in a previous post. The following image from the White River planning committee list many of the popular destinations. It would be great to see more added that are located in Fishers!


A Vision for the White River : Live Events Happening

The White River flows along the entire West side of Fishers. This is a fantastic asset that has a lot more to offer than a strip of old railroad tracks.

A group has been working to build a plan for the improved usage of the White River through Hamilton and Marion counties. I’ve posted a little bit about what they’ve been doing and will be posting more in the future. Of immediately importance, however, are a number of planning engagements over the next few days that will allow anyone to come and provide input to their plans. At these events you will gain insights into what has been happening on and around the river as well as the plans that are forming. The following image includes the dates happening this week:

UPDATE: Due to the weather, the meetings for 1/30 at MIBOR and Sun King Brewery have been postponed to 2/13 at a location to be determined.

When I’ve attended one of these events in the past, there was not a formal meeting, but rather a chance to see some of the plan and provide direct input to the group. This has included home owners asking that the plans leave their land alone to adventurers asking for more activities to be created. There are also those simply looking to understand more about what is available in the area.

These meetings are this week (the week I’m writing this), but the planning will be ongoing. You can always get more information or find the latest gathers on the MyWhiteRiver.com site. As mentioned, the planning covers the area shown in the following image:

Sledding in Fishers, Indiana

Indiana is known for being flat. While this isn’t totally true, in most locations it is true enough. When it comes to sledding, flat isn’t a good feature. While you can jaunt up to Noblesville and pay to sled on hills, if you live in Fishers, there is no reason to leave town. In fact, there are at least two great places to sled – one on the far West side and one on the far East side.

Of course, my kids and I use the location on the East side, so while there is a desire to keep it a secret, I’ll open up and share! On the East side of Fishers is Heritage Park at White River. To get there, simply take 106th Street West until you can go no further. Once you cross Eller Road, you drive into the park. This is a relatively small park in Fishers but offers unique opportunities. In the summer it is one of the few places in Fishers where you can get to the White River. In a future article, I’ll talk in more details about this park, however, for this article, my focus is on the most notable winter feature of this park, which is a large hill. Better yet, it’s next to a parking lot, so it is easy to get to!

Heritage Park in Fishers

Heritage Park has one of the better sledding hills in town since it has a little bit of distance, but not so much that it is brutal to walk back to the top. The main part of the hill offers a longer run on a sled. Going off the right part of the hill offer a small slope that flattens out then a secondary smaller slope. This is great for the littler kids learning to sled as well as for those that try using snow boards instead of sled.

The other sledding part in Fishers is Flat Fork Creek Park, which is on the far East side of Fishers. This park claims the tallest hill in Hamilton County. It is located at 101st Street and Cyntheanne Road.

Flat Fork Creek Park in Fishers

While I’ve not used the sledding hill at Flat Fork Creek, many have. The City of Fishers highlighted it this past week-end with the advent of the first good snow of the winter. One nice thing about this 60-foot sledding hill is that it is ADA compliant.

Of course, as more people learn about these two great locations, they will get more crowded. As such, care should be used, and the city rules should be followed. These rules include no metal sleds or kayaks. Also included in the rules are that you should not sled on designated walking paths. Granted, at Heritage Park you will be going over one of the snow-covered paths! The most important rule is that you should look uphill and yield to others coming down. “Bowling for People” is not an allowed activity!

Of course, the most important rule is to have fun. It is critical to note, however, that this rule applies to grown-ups as much as kids. While I might look silly, I find sledding to be as much fun as my kids. While parents are free to stand around at the top of the hills and chat, they really can have a lot of fun hopping on a sled as well! With more snow coming this week-end, I expect I might see a few of you at the hills!

Stay warm! Stay safe!

Sledding at Flat Fork Creek Park

HSE School Board December 12, 2018 – Redistricting and More…

I attended the December 12th, 2018 Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board meeting. This was expected to be an interesting meeting because the board was to approve the redistricting plans that had been developed over the previous months. Additionally, it was to be the last official board meeting for three of the seven members whose tenure ends at the end of the month.
I attempted to capture video of this meeting; however, I had limited success. I worked with a new camera, so while the video quality is better than the cell phone I’ve used in the past, I’m clearly still learning to use the camera. Additionally, I can’t control the audience around me, including the tiny kids that had been brought to the meeting that were right behind me.

Redistricting HSE Schools

The primary topic of the meeting was redistricting. Like the previous school board meeting, the HSE Superintendent, Dr. Bourff, presented a recommendation for the school board to consider. This was the same recommendation that he made at the previous school board meeting. Unlike the previous meeting, he also included several possible amendments to the proposal. You can catch my video of Dr. Bourff presenting here (sorry for the low audio in this snippet):

The first option Dr. Bourff presented as a change to the proposed redistricting plan was to move Logan’s Pointe from Southeastern elementary School and HIJH over to Durbin Elementary School and Fall Creek Intermediate/Junior High. This only impacted 19 students. This proposed change was passed by the school board.

The second option for change was to move Sunlake apartments to Harrison Parkway, and the “River” neighborhoods to New Britton Elementary School. This proposal had received a lot of discussion. This proposal would have put the “River” neighborhoods back into New Britton. The irony is that Sunlake kids would likely have to drive past New Britton to get to Harrison Parkway once the construction on 37 starts. This proposal failed to pass.

A third option for change was to move the Anchorage neighborhood from Geist Elementary School to Brook School Elementary School. This proposal only impacted 6 students that currently attend Geist. This proposed change was passed by the school board.
The fourth and final potential option for change in the proposed redistricting plan involved removing the 8% split that occurs at HIJH for students going to Fishers High School. This proposed option failed to pass by the school board.

Community Comments on Redistricting

After Dr. Bourff presented, a number of community members took time to speak. Most raised concerns regarding the redistricting plans. You can catch their comments in the following video. I bumped up the volume on this video:

School Board Redistricting Discussion

After the community talked, the school board members discussed the recommended redistricting plan and amendments. A final vote approved the redistricting plan with amendments to move Logan and Anchorage back. There would also be grandfathering for grades 3, 5, and 7; however, transportation would not be provided. Amendments to move Sunlake apartments was not approved, nor was eliminating the split at HIJH. An additional proposal to move allotments 131/132 in the Durbin area also failed to pass by the board.

The final redistricting map is currently available on the school’s web site:

Other School Board Items

There were several other items that were covered in the school board meeting.

A proposal was made and approved to move the school to a third-party audit system instead of using the Indiana State of Accounts system. An audit committee was brought up and approved in the previous school board meeting.

Also covered was an update on live streaming the HSE School Board meetings. It was stated that the school board meetings would not start streaming in January. It was stated that the school system is required to include closed captioning on the video. This was not seen as an issue. The delay was indicated to be a result of using an out-of-state company of the video streaming. This company needs to file to do business in Indiana, which will take time. It is expected that February or March is more likely to be a start time for streaming. Nothing new was stated on the 45-day retention policy. I will, however, try to record any meetings I attend and post them on a YouTube Channel for long-term retention (Fishers, The Other Side of the Tracks).

New high school courses had been presented in the previous school board meeting. The courses were presented again and approved. The courses include African Studies, International Relations, Language for Heritage Speakers, Painting III, Robotics Design and Innovation, and Science Research (Independent Study).

Thanking Go to Those Leaving

Several other topics were covered in the board member reports. The big topic, however, was the recognition of the three board members that were ending their tenures. Terry Tolle, Matt Burke, and John DeLucia will be leaving the board at the end of the month. Each of these guys brought their individual perspectives to the board. While Terry tended to be focused on beating Carmel, all three seemed to be looking out for the Kids in the district. Each contributed positively to making HSE Schools the best they could be. Losing these guys is a loss to the school system; however, hopefully those joining the board will fill the gap with fresh insights and perspectives.

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