Trails will connect more Hoosiers and bring quality lifestyle
The Nickel Plate greenway planned in Fishers and Noblesville could get a lot longer.
Indianapolis is exploring whether to convert 11 miles of rail corridor into a hiking and biking trail from 96th to 13th streets that could rival the popular and nationally recognized Monon Trail. Further, the connection would complete a 20-mile greenway from the northern suburbs that would meet with the southern edge of the Monon in Indianapolis.
Eventually, when Noblesville completes the Midland Trace Trail east-west connector from the Monon to the Nickel Plate, the two trails would form a loop about 50 miles long, or the approximate distance of Interstate 465 around Indianapolis.
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“That’s the long-term plan,” Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said. “One continuous loop. Now all three communities have stepped up.”
But Indianapolis Department of Public Works Director Dan Parker tempered that assessment, saying the city has only sought the authority to build a trail and that no decision has been made.
“This reserves our right to build a trail but it does not obligate us to it,” Parker said. “There has been no decision on that, and there is no budget for it anyway.”
Parker said making the tracks a trail would only be done if the communities alongside the northeast side corridor agreed. City officials have met with the neighborhood groups — Binford Redevelopment and Growth and the Greater Allisonville Community Council — to get input, and suggestions about how the use of vacated tracks have varied.
“The possibilities are endless,” Parker said. “We are seeking suggestions on improving connectivity.”
In a petition filed Aug. 17 with the Surface Transportation Board, Indianapolis wrote that it would “sponsor” a trail in the city limits, meaning it would assume the responsibility of managing its segment of the trail. Fishers and Noblesville have already gotten approval from the board to build a nine-mile trail.
“Specifically, Indianapolis wishes to serve as a trail sponsor for a portion of the line that falls within its jurisdiction,” Robert Wimbush, a lawyer representing the three cities wrote in the petition. “If trail arrangements are successfully completed for each of the three segments, the result will be a contiguous rail trail (from Hamilton County).”
The Nickel Plate corridor in Indianapolis runs from the northeast side, past the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and then meets with the Monon around 22nd Street. The tracks are those on which the Indiana State Fair Train used to run.
If the Nickel Plate becomes a trail, completion would likely take several years. Planning for the 10-mile stretch of the Monon Trail began in the late 1980s, but it was not finished until 2003. At the time there was resistance from homeowners along the corridor who feared it would invite crime or disturbances.
But since its completion, the trail evolved into one of the city’s prized amenities, spurring businesses to open alongside the length of it and raising property values of nearby homes.
Opposition to the Nickel Plate trail
There is also fierce opposition to the Nickel Plate train plan in Hamilton County but for a different reason. Advocates of trains don’t want a rich piece of those two cities’ heritage removed forever.
For decades, the Indiana Transportation Museum ran the fair train from Noblesville to the 38th Street fairgrounds in Indianapolis, as well as for other excursions, and Fishers has even renamed its downtown the Nickel Plate District.
But Fishers and Noblesville discontinued the train two years ago, and then the Train Museum was driven from its Noblesville home in Forest Park.
Hundreds of museum and rail advocates protested the Hamilton County trail plans at public meetings and in filings with the federal Surface Transportation Board, an independent entity charged with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing railroad mergers.
Some argued that a compromise could be reached in which the trails were built alongside the railroad tracks.
Logan Day, a member of the rail preservation group Save the Nickel Plate, said he still advocates using the path as a rail and trail, side by side.
“It is a waste of resources to pull out the track,” he said. “We can have something instead that is much greater than the Monon.”
Day has been fighting the trail in Hamilton County and said he was “surprised” that Indianapolis asked for permission to build a trail.
“The council or any elected official did not appear to be involved in sending this letter,” he said.
City-County Councilman Jared Evans recently sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board asking it to delay any decision on allowing Indianapolis to convert the rails to trails.
“To my dismay, I was notified that a trails use request was recently filed on behalf of Indianapolis,” Evans wrote Aug. 20. “This has caused great confusion among myself and my colleagues on the council because we are unaware who may have authorized such participation on behalf of Indianapolis.”
Evans did not respond Tuesday to a request for further comment.
For more than a decade, transportation planners have discussed using the Nickel Plate for mass transit to connect Indianapolis and its northern suburbs. But plans to convert it to a commuter rail and later, a bus rapid transit corridor, have faded away, though Parker suggested that such uses are still a possibility.
Fishers is already in the planning stages for its portion of the Nickel Plate trail, while Noblesville won’t do so until after the Midland Trace is completed in 2019 and Pleasant Street, one of the connections to the corridor, is reconstructed after that.
“We’re talking a few years away, at least,” said Robert Herrington, a Noblesville spokesman.
The trail in Fishers will be built in three segments: 96th to 106th streets; 106th to 126th streets; and 126th to 146th streets.
Under the federal “railbanking” program, the track owners declare they are not vacating the Nickel Plate rails but using it temporarily for another transportation purpose. If a legitimate rail use is deemed practical in the future, the trains can be restored.
This article was originally published by [IndyStar]: [here]