Westfield revisits plans for Monon Trail tunnel at busy 161st Street

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The 27.1-mile Monon Trail stretches from Indianapolis to Sheridan. (IBJ file photo)

Westfield is renewing plans for an underpass that would allow Monon Trail users to cross under East 161st Street, three years after former members of the City Council voted to pause the tunnel project.

The underpass, less than a half-mile west of U.S. 31, would replace a $122,000 signalized crosswalk—called a HAWK system—that was installed in 2021 after the Westfield City Council balked at spending the money needed to build the tunnel project. The council had spent nearly a year debating whether to resume work on the tunnel or implement another approach.

Westfield Director of Public Works John Nail told the Westfield City Council on Monday that Mayor Scott Willis instructed him to move forward with the tunnel project. The city resumed working with Indianapolis-based United Consulting Engineers to design and plan the tunnel.

On Jan. 1, Willis succeeded former Mayor Andy Cook and all seven members of the city council began their first terms.

The city will submit the project to bidders once design and planning work for the tunnel is complete.

Nail said the estimated total cost of the tunnel project increased from about $7.3 million in 2021 to $8.8 million due to inflation and the three-year delay. He added that the city is looking at different design options to reduce costs.

The city was denied funding from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Organization and the Safe Streets for All federal grant program, Nail said.

“We’re certainly looking at other options for grants and keeping an eye out there, but for the time being, we are moving forward at least initially with local funding,” Nail said. “If we can find some grant money, that would be fantastic.”

Nail said a bridge at the location would cost an additional $1 million to build and a fiber-optic cable line is located where bridge supports would need to go.

Nail said the city’s most recent traffic study found that an average of 14,000 vehicles travel on 161st Street per day. It is Westfield’s second-busiest street behind U.S. 31, which has about 20,000 vehicles per day. At peak times on weekends, the Monon Trail in Westfield has about 200 pedestrians per hour, he said.

Construction on the tunnel would begin in April 2025 and continue through the end of 2025, Nail said.

The signalized crosswalk allows pedestrians to push a button to activate stop signals alerting motorists to people crossing 161st Street. It became operational in August 2021.

The Monon Trail in Westfield covers 7.9 miles between 146th and 216th streets. It connects to the Midland Trace Trail, Anna Kendall Trail, Little Eagle Creek Trail and Cool Creek Trail.

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13 thoughts on “Westfield revisits plans for Monon Trail tunnel at busy 161st Street

  1. As a Westfield resident and regular Monon trail user, I cannot wait for this to happen. I consistently run south into Carmel rather than deal with the mess that is 161st Street.

    1. Russell: I am well aware there is a bridge over Route 32. That is not what I was referring to when I said the article had to be incorrect when it stated that 161st Street is Westfield’s 2nd busiest street behind Route 31. Go count the cars on 32. I am not saying that something doesn’t need to be done. It was poorly designed when last done. It is a miracle someone hasn’t been injured or killed. But the costs quoted for any project seem to grow exponentially compared to anything else.

    2. Tony: I just looked at INDOT traffic count data. It looks like the author was only referring to surface streets, and that he meant to say that 161st Street is the second busiest street in Westfield behind Route 32.

      Route 32 gets roughly 20,000 drivers per day and 161st street gets roughly 14,000 drivers per day. 20,000 and 14,000 were both numbers quoted by the author. US31 blows both out of the water, with 40,000+ drivers per day through Westfield. And US31 isn’t a surface street.

  2. First, let’s acknowledge that we’re thankful no one has been killed at this busy crossing in the last few years. As a trail user all I ask is that you build it right and plan for the future…whether that’s future road expansion, increased trail usage or whatever. You get one shot at this.

  3. This needs to happen, I know there will be the boiler plate grumbling about the cost. Especially from anyone who doesn’t utilize it or just likes to complain.

    However…. its a miracle nobody has been killed here. It’s at the crest of a hill, traffic moves at a high rate of speed, some drivers stop randomly, some speed up to beat pedestrians who might want to cross, its a mess. Some trail users use the light, some don’t, some watch for traffic, some don’t.

    I was at the crossing a few feet back a few months ago and looked down to grab a drink and check my time and a driver had stopped unprompted and then started honking at me to cross. Needless to say… words were exchanged. It’s just too much confusion.

  4. I Have to wonder why build a bridge for multi lane road so a skinny little trail can go underneath, when you could build a longer bridge for only the trail? Is option 1 really cheaper, or are there other considerations driving this choice?

  5. Design cost run about 10% of the project.
    You need a 90% design to get actual cost estimates, so I don’t trust the numbers they put out. They need to try again to get some grant money too help offset some .

  6. $8M+ to dig a hole? What say leave it the way it is and stop and look both ways before crossing as we were taught in grade school. Surely a better way to spend that kind of money

    1. Find a state legislator from outside Evansville who agrees and get them to stop it for you.

      That’s how things work in Indiana, right?

  7. Anyone questioning this project should re-read the article from 2020. Now here we are 3 yrs later and construction costs are sky rocketed! Oh well at least we’re making progress and seeing things get done the right way.

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