Westfield moves to flesh out plans for Monon Trail tunnel at 161st Street

The Westfield City Council has once again delayed a vote on whether to install a signalized crosswalk or an underpass where the Monon Trail crosses 161st Street, prompting Mayor Andy Cook to seek more details for the latter.

Since February, the council has debated creating a pedestrian tunnel where the Monon Trail crosses 161st Street near U.S. 31, using preliminary infrastructure previously installed. City officials have ballparked the cost of finishing the tunnel at $5.25 million.

On Monday, after Westfield Public Works Director Jeremy Lollar told the council that he didn’t support installing a $122,719 signalized crosswalk as an alternative to the tunnel, Cook said the city would start the underpass design and bidding process beginning on Tuesday.

“I’m going to instruct Jeremy Lollar to go ahead and proceed with the design, the engineering, to produce bid documents. When that is complete, we’ll take it to the market and bring you bid results. You can vote yes or no at that time,” Cook said. “We’ve been asking for direction from this council for months. Every time it gets put off by wanting this and wanting that.”

Council President Joe Edwards, however, maintained that the council would make a decision at its next meeting, set for Dec. 28. Cook said he still planned to move forward with the design and bidding process, although it wouldn’t be complete by the end of the year.

Previously, Westfield City Engineer John Nail explained to the council that a signalized crosswalk would cause westbound traffic to back up past U.S. 31.

“Inevitably, someday, this tunnel has to be constructed,” Lollar said.

Council member Scott Frei floated the possibility of giving the signalized crosswalk—called a HAWK System—a trial run at that location.

He said that if it didn’t work, the city could continue with the tunnel. It then could recoup half of the crosswalk’s costs by moving it to one of the other four or five Monon Trail intersections that need special attention, he said.

Regardless of the next meeting’s vote, several council members expressed concerns about doing nothing.

“I feel like we keep kicking this can down the road,” councilor Scott Willis said. “Whether it’s a HAWK system or a tunnel, every day there’s not something there we run the risk of somebody getting killed.”

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18 thoughts on “Westfield moves to flesh out plans for Monon Trail tunnel at 161st Street

  1. So the scenario under consideration is to install a signalized crosswalk, impact movements along 161st AND the Monon Trail, and wait for a tragic accident. Need there be another economic analysis of the opportunity cost or an update of recents results (one assumes this information is readily available). In this and other cases of public work penny pinching, the short-term less costly approach may ultimately result in greater overall costs and impacts and disruption. Recommendation: proceed with the tunnel, conduct value engineering, and ensure tunnel design is appropriate for the long-term build-out cross section of 161st Street.

  2. Exactly, Derek. There is more to the story – about why this Council is dragging its feet – that I hope someone will tell. As a regular Monon user, this is super disappointing to see.

  3. Until they can establish some reasonable resolution, I’ve suggested for YEARS, to utilize “rumble strips” on both sides of the trail on 161st street. They need not be permanent; place in the March/April timeframe and removed in the Oct/Nov timeframe. Trust me a traffic signal would exacerbate the issue….many would not stop, as many do now on major streets. It has become very dense with traffic and new construction. I ride that area nearly every day, weather permitting, and have witnessed many near misses including me.

    1. YES! Rumble strips! This should be at every Monon crossing that isn’t either a tunnel or bridge.

  4. The traffic studies show that the tunnel is the only solution that will work, anything else is a waste of time and money. We already invested in this tunnel back in 2012 by putting the coffin under the road.
    The concept of installing a stop light on the same street that we are paying millions of dollars to eliminate stop lights is not logical.

  5. The tunnel is absolutely the correct remedy. However, temporary usage of the rumble strips is an immediate “short term” solution, and costs are minimal. I think, even those that hate the strips (I’m one of them), would accept this temporary solution for the sake of safety.

    1. Why bother wasting money on rumble strips when a tunnel is the obvious long term solution? Interest rates for borrowing money are at extraordinary lows. Seems like the time to build the tunnel is right now.

    2. I think that rumble strips would be very annoying all day and night for the residents that live next to that intersection.

    3. Create noise? It makes one slow down and certainly would not create any offensive noise. I’m suggesting two on each side of 161st street as a TEMPORARY SOLUTION. How expensive could they be?

  6. While I understand the City Council’s desire to control our overall debt burden, the tunnel is an investment in public safety that will ultimately be necessary once 161st Street becomes a 4 lane thoroughfare. Spending a million or so now to band-aid this project for a few years and then having to pay even more to do it right 5 years from now is not a wise use of tax dollars and is essentially just kicking the can down the road. We are a fast-growing community and thoughtful investments in smart and safe infrastructure, like this tunnel, should be prioritized near the top of the list in order to keep attracting new residents and businesses.

    1. Certain counsel members keep saying that if we built this, then people will want them at other trail crossings. The 161st crossing presents its own unique issues, mainly the westbound approach coming right off of 31 and the hill at the top where the trail crosses over. Many don’t know that the “coffin” for a tunnel under 161st was build years ago, when 161st was closed for the 31 project. So that’s already there. I just don’t see the proposed traffic light system as a viable alternative.

  7. Good point, Dave. Further, the road is ultimately slated to be expanded eventually in 2025-30. It will cost a ton more then – do it now, do it right. Or, we will be doing it in a few years anyway.

  8. For the long term, an option to lower the crest of 161st St and eliminate vehicular site distance problems cannot happen with a tunnel. Engineers have not been asked to seek out other solutions, I.e. lower the road. Calming traffic is not done by widening roads. Read up on road diets and stop designing from the 1980s & 1990s. In 2011-12 Westfield paid for an engineering study that recommended not using 4-lanes on these type of streets. A pedestrian refuge crossing was built to the east by INDOT but most don’t know it exists. The devil is in the details and unfortunately the public does not have an honest vision of what this tunnel will look like & how much it will effect our environment. A tunnel doesn’t prevent pedestrians/bikers from crossing at street grade. Lowering and enforcing speed limits could offer more safety. The government can’t and shouldn’t think they can guarantee 100% protection of all trail users. Where does individual responsibility enter the conversation regarding safety? On this trail open 10 years now, only 1 person has ever been struck by a vehicle – she admitted to entering street without looking. The State repeatedly refuses to fund because this trail crossing is not considered that unsafe. Why then would we the taxpayers borrow money & pay interest for a faulty solution? The latest biker hit was at 169th St. Look for other solutions – solar radar speed signs on street on both sides of trail – reinstall red gates, rumble strips, etc. Do not destroy our linear park with a bad design. FEAR? Rationale thought should find the solution. For now and at all crossings, as we all learned as children – Stop – Look both ways – Cross when clear.

  9. Linda – I think it is only fair to disclose you are the adjacent land owner, and your views are incredibly one-sided. You are looking out for your own interests – which is understandable – the rest of us are relying on the engineers that specialize in this to provide the best solution to protect public safety.

  10. Kate, we already gave up over an acre for the trail and we see the dangers there nearly every day. Actually the Retreat residents will be left with no trees, water lines relocated to their back yards, wildlife run out, dangers from a 166’ trail entered and exited on a slope, dangers of being in a tunnel, dangers from a tunnel wall and rail extending over 1250 feet. I believe others have questioned the safety of the tunnel design itself. Do you realize not everyone takes the bridge over SR32 because of the difficulty of the slope? I hope you are one of few people who crosses slowly in your vehicle cause most are traveling 45-55 mph making it a dangerous crossing & making it fearful to cross. Details will be important.

  11. City is to build within the trail ROW but the City doesn’t own the east side of trail north of 161st – CXS Railroad still does. Did they tell the public that?

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