Chesterton Tribune

Safety concerns over crossing 49 likely to delay Porter hikebike trail

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By PAULENE POPARAD

No one’s abandoning connecting Porter’s hike/bike trail system to the Porter County Visitor Center and the east side of Indiana 49, but the general consensus Monday was that using the Munson Ditch easement to do it probably isn’t the best way.

Planned but undetermined changes to Indiana 49 in that area, a possible roundabout there, the volume of semi-trucks using Indiana 49 and the secluded nature of the Munson route all generated doubt.

More than 35 people attended a special Porter Redevelopment Commission input session on the matter; the RDC will vote May 22 whether to use a $72,000 Lake Michigan Coastal Program grant to help buy the needed Munson parcels or lose the grant.

The Munson link would become part of the new north/south Dunes Kankakee Trail loosely paralleling Indiana 49. In the Duneland area segments will be built by the State of Indiana, Porter County, and the towns of Porter and Chesterton.

Porter’s leg of the Dunes Kankakee is part of the town’s larger Gateway to the Indiana Dunes redevelopment/tourism project partially funded with a $19 million grant. Town Council president Greg Stinson said the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is aware of Porter’s hesitation about using Munson and won’t pull the plug on the grant, but Porter ultimately will have to connect to the Dunes Kankakee.

The Munson alignment, proposed to go west along the ditch easement behind cellular towers and Pinkerton Oil from Indiana 49 to Waverly Road, was chosen last year by the previous RDC, but how to get trail users safely across Indiana 49 wasn’t clearly identified.

Gene Chemma suggested using a Tremont Road leg to access the Visitor Center instead keeping the trail on the east side of Indiana 49 with no need to cross it.

If and when a traffic roundabout is built just south of the Visitor Center as a Gateway feasibility study proposes, speakers last night predicted a dangerous situation for hikers/bikers trying to cross Indiana 49 near roundabout traffic that isn’t meant to stop.

RDC consultant Matt Reardon of SEH said the roundabout isn’t a done deal and the Indiana Department of Transportation won’t allow conditions that are unsafe, especially if the community is opposed to a specific plan. Pinkerton Oil owner Bob Poparad challenged Reardon’s latter comments.

After the meeting Nicholas Minich of SEH confirmed that although INDOT previously accepted the Indiana 49 corridor feasibility study which included a roundabout, “They never gave details what they liked and didn’t like so we’ve started pushing and they’re reviewing it again.”

Minich also noted recommendations in a companion Gateway study calling for off-site parking and shuttle service to the State Park would reduce the traffic on Indiana 49.

Several speakers Monday said it’s bad enough now without trying to attract even more tourists.

Porter police chief James Spanier said while he’s generally for roundabouts, he’d question one on Indiana 49. He opposed the feasibility study’s proposal to reduce Indiana 49 from four lanes to two north of Oak Hill Road because two days last year traffic heading to the State Park was backed up onto the Interstate 94 ramps creating a dangerous situation. Reducing lanes will compound the problem, he predicted.

Gerry Waechter also cited back-ups on Indiana 49 almost to Interstate 94 after a new INDOT 49 bridge over U.S. 12 was reduced to two lanes. He said the Gateway project shouldn’t be a Field of Dreams that no one can reach.

Porter Public Works director Brenda Brueckheimer and resident Jennifer Klug both questioned how semi-trucks are going to negotiate a roundabout. Klug said trails and tourism are nice, but mill-related truck traffic is a livelihood for this area. Minich said semis and hikers/bikers can co-exist on a properly designed roundabout that calms traffic.

RDC vice-president Al Raffin said it’s unsettling thinking of pedestrians/cyclists trying to cross Indiana 49. “I’m nervous someone will get hit.” Crossing the U.S. 20 interchange ramps for the Porter County portion of the Dunes Kankakee will be challenging as well, he and Poparad agreed.

In addition to the Brickyard Trail, which will tie into Porter County’s existing Calumet Trail, the Town of Porter is engineering the Orchard Pedway hike/bike trail from Woodlawn Avenue north along Waverly Road. The pedway ends south of Oak Hill Road at Orchard Apartments, but Scott Virtue felt the planned re-opening of Splash Down Dunes waterpark at Waverly and U.S. 20 will create a need to extend the pedway north of that signalized intersection.

Safety of a different kind was a concern for Karen Kenney, who said the Munson easement is too secluded inviting mischief. “Kids will be partying back there. I don’t see a good mix.”

Nelson replied, “You’re not the first person to raise that concern.” Kenney asked who would maintain the trails. Brueckheimer said she’s wondering how her department is supposed to get equipment in to do that.

Reardon said now’s a good time to work with INDOT and re-evaluate the situation. Nelson said a Porter delay on the Munson leg won’t affect anyone else’s Dunes Kankakee planning. Judy Chemma agreed Munson needs to be looked at again, but “I’m concerned using taxpayer money to redo and redo and redo.”

Rich Janusaitis said a safe trail plan for Porter is the goal. “I’m all for the trails 100 percent. This is one of the nicest, most beautiful (areas for) trails. We live in such a cool area.”

 

 

 

Posted 5/15/2012