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Monon Trail pedestrian crossing at US 31, 161st draws ire of INDOT

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — A controversial crossing on the Monon Trail has brought state transportation leaders to the point where if things don’t get resolved to their satisfaction, they may close the interchange at U.S. 31 and 161st Street.

Pedestrians, city leaders and engineers seem to agree something has to change. The question is what’s the best way to fix it?

Trying to cross 161st Street on the Monon Trail on foot or bike can feel like a game of chicken around rush hour.

“Pretty dangerous for everyone involved it seems,” said Noah Borton who lives nearby. He was walking his dogs Hazy and Jojo on Friday afternoon, one of their four daily strolls.

But he never crosses the road. “Never,” he said with a laugh.

The current crossing configuration is just a flashing yellow light. As the nearby sign clearly states for pedestrians, cars are not supposed to stop.

But as they frequently do, it’s easy to see why the sign is there. Vehicles quickly line up, making rear-end collisions a real possibility.

“It’s understandable that people are being courteous. What we see though is a major issue,” said John Nail, the city engineer for Westfield government.

For years, the solution targeted by city leaders has been a pedestrian tunnel under the road, similar to one in Carmel on 116th Street. There’s even an ongoing contract with an outside engineering firm to design it. Their design in expected in October.

“We feel the tunnel was a better solution for this long-term crossing for pedestrians and the city of Westfield in general,” Nail said.

Some construction work on a tunnel is already complete. Already underneath the road, there’s a concrete cap so if a tunnel is ever built, 161st Street does not have to be shut down.

It has the support of police and fire departments as well as outside engineers.

The tunnel comes with an estimated $5 million tag.

At December’s City Council meeting, council members voted 5-2 to try a different solution: a high-intensity, activated crosswalk or a High-Intensity Activated crosswalk, nicknamed a HAWK. The beacon is identical to the one on Hazel Dell Parkway just south of State Road 32 in Noblesville. It allows walkers to push a button to turn the crosswalk red and require cars to stop.

Councilman Troy Patton was one of the yes votes.

“The intersection is a problem,” Patton said.

He believes other long-term solutions are possible and less expensive, including moving the crossing to the west, perhaps even lowering the roadway and giving foot traffic a bridge.

Patton doesn’t like the idea of using eminent domain from nearby property owners to make a tunnel possible.

“I’m not against the tunnel. I am against hard-earned dollars when they paid for property,” the councilman said.

“We want the best solution for the city of Westfield and for the residents,” the city engineer said. “We just disagree on how to get there.”

Complicating matters, Indiana Department of Transportation has sent a memo telling the city if a $123,000 HAWK signal is installed on 161st Street — the light has the ability for people to hit the button again after 15 seconds — they would consider closing the U.S. 31 interchange nearby over worries traffic would be backed up to the highway.

Patton is confident things can get worked out.

“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue,” Patton said.

Borton, the nearby resident, said he’s remaining optimistic but is is looking forward to the day when he feels safer crossing with Hazy and Jojo. “The sooner the better, definitely.”

City leaders said they will be discussing all this with INDOT as well as the council in the next few weeks.

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