Nickel Plate Trail March 2020 Update

The Nickel Plate Trail (NPT) has been a local topic for a few years now. I’ve published on the status of the trail several times in the past. On March 3rd, there was a public update meeting on the trail. In short, many questions remain unresolved and seem to be getting no closer to being answered. The trail is, however, moving forward – at least part of it.

This post contains my take-away from the meeting. It is an attempt to reflect what I believe I heard and what seems to be happening. I add my perspective to what I heard. This is after all a blog post, not a news article, so I have taken the liberty to editorialize.

For those not wanting to read a lot, the short synopsis is that the downtown section of the trail will be built this summer. The rest of the trail north of 126th and south of 106th remains unbudgeted with no timeline. Building of the downtown trail is to do the asphalt/concrete trial, not the add-on features presented in the 20 year plan.

Nickel Plate Trail Phase 1: The Downtown Nickel Plate District

The downtown section (phase 1) of the trail is going out for bids. It is targeted to happen this summer. The focus is on doing asphalt; however, this will include the concrete work that will need to happen around the underpass at 116th. The initial focus will be primarily from South Street to North Street (so what is often referred to by many as “The Fadness District” part of the Nickel Plate District. 

After that piece, they will do a phase 1b, which will be the asphalt from North Street to around 126th Street and the asphalt from South Street down to 106th Street. This is hoped to be accomplished this summer as well

The underpass on 116th will be among the most disruptive pieces of the trail construction. It is projected to cost in the range of $3 million for this part of the project, however, we’ll see how much its final bill is. This is getting bids and is expected to start the day HSE School close for the summer (around May 26th). This will cause 116th to be closed at the tracks. There was discussion of a 45 to 50-day timeline, with expectations that this could go as long as 60 days. My assumption is that they will do everything possible to get this done before school is back in session as this would greatly impact busing.

Images such as the following have been provided for this area of the trail in the Master Plan as well as online.

It is very important to understand that while these images have all kinds of features included within them such as the BizKidz area, these are not a part of what is being done right now. It was stressed more so at this meeting than I’ve heard in the past that these bells and whistles are not a part of the initial build or spending. Rather the focus is on the asphalt. The bells and whistles will need to be budgeted for at some future date and are part of the 20-year plan – meaning that the city isn’t committing to adding them other than to say that they could happen before 2040.

The expectation is that a majority of the trail will be a 12-foot asphalt trail with 2-foot concrete edges. On the South side of 116th in the downtown area, the trail will be 20 feet wide.

The Other Phases of the Nickel Plate Trail

For those outside of the downtown Nickel Plate District, you’ll be interested in knowing the timeline for the parts of the trail from 106th South and from 126th North to 146th Street. The answer is that these are currently unbudgeted and untimed. That is correct – the city indicated that these are not scheduled and won’t be until they determine the funding to cover their cost.

The initial tax increase of approximately 1 to 1-1/2 cents, which was reported to fund a $12 million dollar bond for the trail will cover the downtown section, which I thought was planned in the $7 to 9 million range (based on the last numbers that were floating around). The tax increase was for a one-year bond; however, my assumption had been that this was an ongoing tax. Being that the property tax rate didn’t go back down by this same amount, the tax seems to be continuing even though it is no longer associated to the trail. It was indicated that they would let me know why the tax rate didn’t get adjusted back down. (Side note: a similar 3 cent tax increase was added to pay for fire stations. If that was a one-time cost as well, then our property tax rate should have gone back down this year by about 4-1/2 cents).

In addition to asking about the tax rate and why it didn’t go back down if it was only for one year (which got a laugh), I also asked about the pavement of the entire trail. I asked why the city didn’t get quotes for doing the entire asphalt since doing the larger project would warrant a better rate. There was no answer to that. With the bond being for $12 million and the first phases being estimated under $9 million, it seems like they could have put pavement down for the rest of the trail (at the estimated cost of $1 million a mile).

Pictures Versus Reality

I mentioned it earlier, but it is worth noting again that many of the pictures being used to promote and market the trail are considered ideas and are for the long term plan. The long-term plan is a 20-year plan going to 2040. Here are a few of the pictures used in the community presentation:

LED lighting, fancy structures, staging with tables and awnings are add-ons and not the focus of the first stage.

A few other Tidbits

There were a number of topics that came up not only during the meeting but also after the meeting in discussions. I simply ‘buckshot’ some of those here so as to share what I learned or what believe I heard:

* Adjacent Resident Grants

It appeared that a large number of people attending the community meeting were people who live next to the trail. I heard several questions asked after the meeting from homeowners about the Adjacent Resident Screening and Privacy Grant program being offered as well as questions on things such as lighting. One couple was concerned that lighting on the trail would impact them. Being that additional items beyond the asphalt are not currently budgeted, time will tell if this becomes an issue!

The city is offering a grant of up to $2,0000 for property owners that plan to install improvements such as fencing, landscaping, or buffering improvements. If requests for this grant are approved, residents will have 12 months to do the project in order to get the reimbursement check. These grants are available up until three years after the completion of the full Nickel Plate Trail. I’m unsure if this is the trail itself, or when the bells and whistles shown in the 20 year plan are completed. Either way, residents have time to tap into this grant program if they live next to the trail. More information can be found at PlayFishers.com/NPT.

* Stop Signs

I have reported on the stop signs before. The city is working diligently to change the legislation and address the legal issues to be able to remove stops signs and rail crossings. This will be happening.

The one intersection that is not expected to lose the stop signs is 131st Street due to the grade of the road. In the meeting, they specifically listed several streets that would have the stop signs or railroad crossings removed:

  • Fishers Point Blvd.
  • South Street
  • 116th Street
  • North Street
  • Lantern Road / Commercial Drive
  • Ford Drive

* No Trespassing on the Nickel Plate Trail

The no trespassing signs were addressed. In addition to the upcoming construction, it was stated that several areas of the trail are unsafe due to the grades and such. The commented that police are enforcing the No Trespassing restriction, so people should stay off the trails until they are opened.

It was also stated that motorcycles have been seen on the trail. As such, it was indicated that even when the trail is completed, no motorized vehicles will be allowed.

* Library Changes

In the meeting, they stated that a change to the library is coming. Simply put, they are looking to move the entrance to the back. I wrote about this in my post, “Fishers Public Library Collides with the Lorax” so I won’t say more here.

* 116th Street Closing – Spark / Concerts / etc.

The central portion of Fishers is going to be the land of road construction. As mentioned earlier, with the construction of the 116th Street underpass, it is expected that 116th will be closed for a period of time this summer where the rail crossing currently is located. The plans, however, are to continue to have the concerts, Spark! Fishers, and other events downtown. The city officials stated that parking has increased in the downtown area, and they plan to continue with events even with the construction.

* Head Scratcher – Journalist from Indy and “Rails versus Trails”

One of the oddest questions raised at the community meeting was from a journalist out of Indianapolis. He asked if the decision had been made to not do rail. This was a head scratching question considering that decision had been determined last year and the fact that the rail has been removed from Noblesville to the state fairgrounds would make it harder to do light rail at this point.

Related to this, however, is the issue of mass transit. It was reiterated that this is a rail banking project, which means the rails could (unlikely) come back at some point. However, it was also stated that research showed that if mass transit were to be done, it would likely make more sense to consider the 37 corridor more so than the current rail location. Granted, for much of Fishers, the rail is near 37.

* Coordinating with Indianapolis and Noblesville

A person in the audience asked if Fishers was coordinating with Noblesville and Indianapolis. The answer included two comments. First, Fishers worked with the other two cities an a grant request. This roughly $9 million dollars that could be used on the trail if it is received.

The other comment was that Fishers would work with Noblesville and Indianapolis “if we proceed with the future phases.” I actually wrote that statement down in my notes because it surprised me due to its use of the word “if”. I would assume the future phases will happen; however, this statement was made as were statements regarding a there being no current source of funding for future phases. This raised a red flag, which leads to the next point….

* Countering “This trail is not for the Community“ Criticism

One of the big criticisms that has been posted by others on social media is that this trail is being done for businesses and not really for the community. This argument has been countered by stating that this is not the case. When you look at the focus and active planning being done between South Street and Lantern Road, combined with no tangible timing or funding for those neighborhood areas along the trail, it does give credence to the argument that this is about downtown and not about a long linear trail for the community.

When it was originally stated that the entire pavement could be done for roughly $4.4 million (a million a mile), you’d think that would be the first step as it would provide the most amount of usable trail in the fastest manner for the community. Rather, the city has focused on the business district where they will deliver the shortest piece of trail for the highest cost, with a 20 year target for completing the rest.

Wrapping Up this Post

This is a long post, and I covered a lot of information. This is quickly written so as to share the information quicker.

At least part of the trail is going to be happening this summer. Hopefully the city figures out that if they didn’t decrease our property taxes, then they are still be collecting millions each year from the residents and thus could do the rest of the trail. In fact, if they keep collecting that cent to cent and a half for park use, then Fishers should end up with the best parks in the state after a few years as we invest millions more.  What would be even better is if we invest some of those millions to finish adding sidewalks around town so that residents can actually get to the parks.

Did I mention that there aren’t connecting sidewalks to the trail at 131th and that’s not in the plans. That’s a post for a different day.

CHECK IT OUT: Check out my book, Spot the Difference in Fishers: City Parks Edition. Support a local writer/business by buying a copy today! This is a ‘game’ book good for a bit of fun for you and/or your kids!

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