Work on remaining Nickel Plate Trail through Indy, Fishers, Noblesville to begin in 2023

A seamless 18-mile Nickel Plate Trail through Indianapolis, Fishers and Noblesville is no longer merely a vision, but a plan coming to fruition in about two years.

All three cities will start construction on portions of the trail in 2023, with Fishers and Noblesville planning to wrap up the same year. Then in 2024, Indianapolis aims to complete the majority of its stretch, and Fishers will build a pedestrian bridge at the trail's 96th Street crossing.

The three cities were able to begin designing their respective portions when they received grants from the state's Next Level Trails program this spring, after multiple attempts.

"This has been a labor of love for a long time," City-County Councilor Dan Boots told a standing-room-only crowd at Epworth United Methodist Church Monday night, where residents sauntered among new maps and renderings of Indianapolis' preliminary plans.

Officials envision a 42-mile trail loop when everything is built out, connecting the Monon, Nickel Plate and Midland Trace through Noblesville and Westfield trails in a triangle. The old Nickel Plate rail tracks were removed in 2019.

The design of Indianapolis' $15-million project is about a third complete, and engineers are seeking input on areas of concern as well as potential spots where trail connections could be built into adjacent communities.

"We will get the back bone in, and then we look to the communities to help us activate and help us make it a community place where people want to go," said Gretchen Zortman, the Department of Public Works' greenways and trails program manager.

Indiana trails:Nickel Plate Trail to link Fishers to Indianapolis thanks to $9.5M in grants

What will the Nickel Plate look like in Indianapolis?

Indianapolis is expecting to wrap up design of its 9.6-mile trail portion by February 2023, bid the project that spring and build it between summer 2023 and spring 2024.

About 90% of the future trail will be built on the corridor of the former Nickel Plate rail line, BF&S Engineering's lead designer Doug Valmore said, minus a few problem spots where the trail has to deviate for safety reasons.

The asphalt will be at least 10 feet wide, or up to 12 feet where it can fit, with 2-foot-wide stone shoulders, which is the width of the current rail bed.

At all intersections with streets, the trail crossing will be raised and have visible markings and flashing warning lights. In a couple places, crosswalk lights will stop traffic when activated by a button. Valmore said making sure the crossings are as visible and protected as possible is a high focus point for the city.

The trail will begin from the south at the Monon Trail at 42nd street near the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and head east to meet the Nickel Plate corridor. Continuing up north toward city limits at 96th Street, there will be two more trail connections: east on 62nd Street to Eastwood Middle School and west on 86th Street to Sahm Park.

There are a few trouble spots crossing large thoroughfares. Across Keystone Avenue, the city secured funding to design a bridge crossing and will seek federal money to build it. Until that gets done, trail users will be diverted to the traffic light at 46th Street.

Rather than crossing Allisonville Road, the trail will cross at the signal at 62nd Street. Then it's clear sailing until Castleton, where officials eventually want to put a bridge over 82nd Street, but don't yet have the funding.

The portion of the trail from Knue Road to north of I-465 is not part of this plan because Indiana Department of Transportation will finish that portion as part of its Clear Path Project, an interchange rebuild with I-69, in 2025. The city is still discussing possible pedestrian detours for that gap, Zortman said.

When will Fishers and Noblesville sections be complete?

Rachel Stoneking runs with her dog Zika on the Nickel Plate Trail in Fishers, Wednesday, July 22, 2020.  This was there first time on the trail.  Stoneking says she likes the trail because she can run with him and he can have space to run around her without getting on the road.  A 1-mile portion of the trail from North Street to 126th Street has been paved.  It's technically not open but people are already using it.  The city says that is okay.
Rachel Stoneking runs with her dog Zika on the Nickel Plate Trail in Fishers, Wednesday, July 22, 2020. This was there first time on the trail. Stoneking says she likes the trail because she can run with him and he can have space to run around her without getting on the road. A 1-mile portion of the trail from North Street to 126th Street has been paved. It's technically not open but people are already using it. The city says that is okay.

Fishers has already completed most of its portion of the trail, from 106th to 146th streets. This $4.5 million Next Level Trails funding enables the city to complete the remaining 1.3-mile portion down to its border with Indianapolis at 96th Street, where it also plans to build a pedestrian bridge.

The trail and pedestrian bridge are both in design, spokesperson Ashley Elrod said. Construction on the trail will start and finish in 2023, and on the bridge, in 2024. The city initially estimated the work would cost $5 million, but has not landed on a final cost estimate, she said.

Noblesville's grant award also will go toward its 2.7-mile portion, which would run from 146th Street to Pleasant Street near downtown, to link with a planned extension of the Midland Trace Trail. Part of the Nickel Plate project includes converting two railroad bridges into pedestrian bridges.

Noblesville officials are investigating the future possibility of a bridge crossing at 146th Street, its border with Fishers, but this is not part of the initial plan, spokesperson Emily Gaylord said. For now, trail users will be directed to the traffic signal at Herriman Boulevard to cross 146th Street.

Construction on the 12-foot-wide trail in Noblesville is expected to start in March 2023 and wrap up by that Thanksgiving, with a price tag of $3.4 million, according to the city's website.

Kayla Dwyer is a transportation reporter at IndyStar. Contact her at kdwyer@indystar.com or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17. 

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana trails: Indianapolis to begin Nickel Plate construction in 2023