City to move on Monon Trail widening after years of delay

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The Monon Trail. (IBJ file photo)

After years of delays, the Monon Trail is finally about to get wider. Construction bidding is scheduled for November, with work on the trail in full swing by next spring, according to the Indianapolis Department of Public Works.

Indianapolis officials first pitched a wider Monon in 2014, to help with congestion on the busy trail. They planned to start construction in 2020 with $2 million from a 2015 federal grant and $5 million in city bonds. That didn’t happen.

Instead, city lawyers unearthed a 2012 Indiana Supreme Court case during due diligence that said railroad easements couldn’t be transferred to new public trails. Indianapolis had purchased the physical rails from CSX, owner and operator of the former Monon Railroad, but not the land underneath. 

“It was found last-minute on a legal check, before we submitted everything, that basically redefined former rail law in Indiana,” DPW Director Dan Parker said. “And the case was from … years prior to the submission of this project, and obviously, long before any of us were here.”

The initial legal check, by a different set of attorneys during Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration, was done in 2014, according to Parker.

The decision didn’t affect the original Monon—Indianapolis finished its section in 1999, followed by Carmel in 2002 and Westfield in 2008—but the proposed widening was for private land. The final legal check sparked a two-year process of right-of-way engineering and land acquisition. 

DPW is splitting the project into two phases: one from 14th Street to 56th Street and the other from 56th to 96th Street. So far, the department has bought 51 of the 81 parcels within Phase 1, adding up to about $119,000, according to spokesman Ben Easley. 

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get too many takers on donating,” Parker said. “Everybody wanted the land that they didn’t know that they owned.”

DPW plans to bid out the first phase on Nov. 18, according to Easley.

“Should we not have all parcels in hand by the time we move into the construction phase, we’re working on a plan that would allow construction activity to start in sections, with the intent of having everything acquired by the time work is fully under way the following spring,” Easley wrote in an email.

There’s also an estimated 77 parcels to buy for Phase 2. Money from a $25 million set of city bonds could help with those costs. DPW set aside about $2 million in right-of-way engineering.

“If that takes two years, because that’s not funded, our hope is that the right-of-way engineering line that we had in there can help us at least do the … title searches, all that, to get prepared for making the purchases to do the second phase,” Parker said.

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19 thoughts on “City to move on Monon Trail widening after years of delay

  1. Who is pushing to widen the trail?
    I’m an avid cyclist, race criteriums, and have lots of friends that ride around Indy. None of them will tell you “yeah the Monon is too narrow”. It’s great as is (when we ride it) and sure it’s busy near Carmel and BRip but it’s been like that for years. Everyone rides slow in those zones. Use the money to build more bike lanes and connect to other areas of the city!

    1. Go conduct a test today at 5pm, ride the Monon at 10-15mph on your bike. See if you run into anyone. You won’t. Making it wider would be cool but it’s not necessary. Spend the money in OTHER area of the city that don’t have anything.

  2. agree Jaron. only exception would be to, instead, direct those funds to improve a few crossings that pose safety issues (and horn honking, finger gestures, etc!) Would be great for all (vehicles, bikers, walkers) to have a pedestrian overpass/ bridge at these Monon intersections: Broad Ripple/Broad Ripple Avenue; Nora/86th St; 75th St/Westfield Blvd (maybe); and probably a few more where I don’t experience.

    1. Nora/86th and 75th/Westfield both have push button walk lights for crossing. Never a problem for those that use the buttons and wait for the signal.

  3. If the trail was simply used by walkers, runners and bikers the dimensions of the trail seem fine, but now we have ebikes, e scooters, mono scooters, lots of people with dogs and what appears a preference for walking side by side rather following each other. Widening alieviates the issue. Importantly the deterioration of the trail in Marion County caused by poor drainage, eroding the sub base along the trail edges and leading to a sub par asphalt…re-engineering now and fixing it will extend its life another 30 years or more and make it more enjoyable for all. How many more citizens use the trail over riding the Red Line, seems like money well invested.

    1. I was a BRip resident for 5 years and rode the Monon all the time. The city is building IMPORTANT bridges and protecting people. I moved to the eastside I realized just how bad the infrastructure really is. Where the money could go the furthest. Widening the trail so rich folks to walk there dogs is another issue.

    2. Yep, sometimes 3-4 abreast taking up well over half the width of the trail in the busiest areas of Carmel & Broad Ripple. Not to mention to 25-foot dog leashes with a barking spaz on the end.

  4. I have been riding the trail for 10 years and logged thousands of miles on it. It may need to be widened in some spots but I agree with the idea of making more bridges and overpasses and improving the intersections for safety. The Nora intersection could use a bridge. Drivers are pretty good in Marion county at intersections. The Hamilton County towns, not so much. Nonetheless intersection improvements should be made above everything else and then smoothing out some rougher stretches should be the next priority.

  5. While we’re talking about improving the trail, let me suggest that public works put some resources into cutting back the greenery at intersections. Both as a bike rider and as a driver I would like to be able to have a bit better view of who is approaching at those tight intersections, especially south of Broad Ripple. Cutting back brush is cheap and would improve safety. And thanks for the bridge over 38th St. Beautiful.

    1. 100% agree and it saves lives. The bridge over 38th St. is amazing and much needed. People literally died at the intersection. That’s money well spent. Widening a trail so rich yuppies can walk dogs is another issue.

  6. Opinion Matthew C. … opinion. Hard to say “never a problem” when you use that daily and hear the honks & people giving the bird to cars/other bikers. Particularly when cars exiting from Total Wine make an immediate right turn once light goes green – coming inches from the biker. We all see it differently, and that’s ok.

  7. My main beef is that this state gives drivers the right away at intersection. To me that makes no sense when somebody in their car can kill me if they hit me, but if I hit a car on my bike there is no chance I will kill them. Many states prioritize pedestrians and bicyclist’s safety by giving them the right away and enforcing that with camera surveillance. Could be considered extreme and if I sound like a selfish bicyclist, i understand, buy when on a bike momentum is a precious thing and the current set up make for much uncertainty for both biker and driver, it seems. Our state still clings to a car culture and that is the citizens right but it certainly is not healthy for the population in general, no? Could be considered extreme and if I sound like a selfish bicyclist, i understand, but when on a bike momentum is a precious thing and the current set up makes for much uncertainty for both biker and driver, it seems.

  8. I ride the Monon weekly and rode it yesterday. I agree the trail needs to be widened and definitely repaved, which I’m assuming is part of the plan (hoping). Yesterday I rode down to the new Bridge by the State Fair Grounds. The bridge is fabulous and a much needed improvement. The pavement, not so much. Lots of bumps and rough going. Hamilton County has done a great job on maintaining their smooth pavement and repaving when needed. It’s a joy to ride. Hopefully Marian County will follow suit.
    I agree that intersections are always an issue with an urban trail, but I don’t find any to be unsafe. The Monon remains one of the jewels of the area!

    1. Someone up thread mentioned HamCo’s trail and I think Carmel in particular benefited from having a large chunk of the trail in its mostly industrial “Old Town” giving it a lot of space to grow. I believe the Nickel Plate Trail is running into similar right-of-way problems and adjacent property owners wanting top dollar for land they didn’t even know they owned, hence the delay on Noblesville’s end of the trail.

  9. I hope the work will include some effort to educate trail users about trail safety and etiquette. So many bikers zip by walkers with little clearance without offering the basic warning ‘on your left.’ This modest bit of consideration prevents collisions. The difference is remarkable when walking trails in other states where riders regularly warn walkers of their approach. Of course walkers also need to refrain from spilling out of their lane and blocking bikers. Signs reminding riders and walkers of basic trail courtesy and perhaps raising the specter of fines for repeated violations could help. After getting hit once by a biker trying to pass in too much congestion and surviving many near misses, we have coined a term for those who refuse to deploy basic manners – ‘passholes’. Whether or not the trail is widened, improving common courtesy would help.