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Phase 2 of the bike path project known as The Loop will extend the path along East Main Street from Seventh to 10th streets in 2022. (Photo: Jason Truitt/Palladium-Item)

RICHMOND, Ind. — In about a year and a half, part of U.S. 27 through downtown will be under construction. At the same time, segments of East Main Street will be closed to add a new bike path.

It’s enough to spark flashbacks of 2018.

During a public meeting Thursday night, officials from Clark Dietz, the engineering firm working with the city on phase two of The Loop bike path, gave an updated timeline for the project.

Design-wise, not much work has been done since the last community input meeting a year ago. Blame the novel coronavirus pandemic. Thursday’s meeting originally was scheduled to happen in April.

“As far as the design, (during) this kind of six-month hiatus, we haven’t really done a bunch to move forward because we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves as far as the steps of the project,” said Jim Loew of Clark Dietz.

At least two more public information meetings are planned (one early next spring and the other next summer) before a final design is settled on in the summer ahead of construction beginning in February 2022.

“The schedule again has been condensed quite a bit because of the six-month COVID situation,” Loew said. “That keeps us on the original schedule, but it’s a much tighter timeframe.”

Officials hope to get the project done that same year.

“At this point, we’re going to try to condense it as much as possible into one construction season. That’s been our recommendation from the start,” Loew said.

About 20 people attended Thursday’s meeting in person with another nine participating online. Most of those who showed up to the 4th Floor Blues Club were city officials, including representatives from the city’s Infrastructure and Development and parks departments as well as Common Council members.

Attendees heard a short presentation from Clark Dietz before getting to ask questions about the hows and whys of the project. Here are highlights from the discussion.

Work will overlap with U.S. 27 construction

As was the case two years ago, the Indiana Department of Transportation will be in the middle of rebuilding a section of U.S. 27 when the bike path work begins.

Construction on Ninth Street from North B to South O is expected to start next year and last into 2022. That’s the section of U.S. 27 that wasn’t done during INDOT’s larger project on portions of southbound U.S. 27 as well as U.S. 40 that began in 2017 and didn’t finish until more than two years later.

“The scope of that work is basically the same as the scope for the southbound project,” Loew said.

That means Ninth Street will get new pavement, sidewalks and curb ramps; drainage will be improved; new traffic signals will be installed at the South L and North A intersections; and a new water line will be put in.

The intersections at South E and South A won’t be affected since they’ve already been done recently. At least one lane of Ninth Street will remain open at all times.

“Toward the end of next summer, you’re probably going to see more construction activity,” Loew said. “Right now, the time set is for substantial completion by August of 2022.”

Parking update

Although there’s design work still to come on the new bike paths, we do know now that the plan is to keep parking on both sides of the affected roads.

Phase 2 of The Loop will add bike paths to East Main from Seventh to 10th streets, to Fort Wayne Avenue from Seventh to North E and to North E from Fort Wayne Avenue to 10th Street.

Loew said it hasn’t been determined yet how much parking will be able to fit along those stretches, but all of it will be parallel to the road. Downtown’s angled parking will go away.

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At least two more community input meetings to gather information for the design of Phase 2 of the bike path projects known as “The Loop” are expected to happen next year before construction begins in 2022. (Photo: Jason Truitt/Palladium-Item)

Changes from Phase 1

The next phase of the bike paths won’t necessarily look just like the first sections built on East Main from First to Seventh streets, on Seventh from East Main to Fort Wayne Avenue and on 10th Street from the 10th Street Park to North E.

“In some respects yes, and in some respects no. I know that’s a waffling answer there, but we are wanting to keep kind of the same theme, if you will, so there’s not a huge difference between the two projects,” Loew said.

“However, this project we’re much tighter on space, so there’ll be a lot less amenities.”

As was done with Phase 1, work on Phase 2 will advance one segment of the road at a time. However, crews could end up working on part of the path through the Historic Depot District while also working on a downtown segment simultaneously.

The bike paths still will be 8 feet wide to meet federal guidelines (80% of the project is being paid for by federal dollars through the state), but the bumpouts likely will be smaller.

“That was something that the city has suggested that we try to minimize as much as possible because of the turning movements of the trucks and so forth in this area, so we plan to minimize those bumpouts as much as we can,” Loew said.

Richmond Common Council member Larry Parker asked if the bumpouts are required by federal rules. Loew said in certain situations they are, but the reason behind having those as part of the design comes down to safety.

“From a pedestrian standpoint, the shorter the crossing the better. If we can get the bumpouts to work with the turning radii, that makes the pedestrian crossing shorter and it’s a safer situation. It’s a balance,” he said.

Beth Fields, the city’s director of infrastructure and development, said yes, the bumpouts serve to slow down traffic for safety reasons but there can be economic benefits as well.

She pointed to the reasoning from then-Mayor Dennis Andrews’ administration for putting curves into East Main when the Promenade was removed and traffic once again could flow through the heart of downtown.

“The reason that it’s curvy is so that you’re calming the traffic so that traffic is going slower because this is our business district so there should be a lot of foot traffic there and we want to ensure that those pedestrians and those families are safe,” Fields said.

“Also, the slower that we get cars to go through that area, the more likely they are to catch something in (The Tin Cup Tea and Gift Shop owner) Rachel (Hughes’) window and be like, ‘I gotta park. I gotta go in and get that. I need that mug. I need that tea.'”

More bike paths are possible in the future

Eventual completion of The Loop might not be the end of building bike paths in the city. The idea for The Loop itself can be traced back to discussions that went into drafting Richmond’s 2011 transportation plan. Richmond Rising, the city’s new comprehensive plan that was adopted last year, calls for that transportation document to be updated.

The comprehensive plan also lays out three potential uses for the former Reid Hospital property on Chester Boulevard. Each of those scenarios includes a designated bike lane running through the heart of the site that eventually could connect with the Cardinal Greenway to the southwest and with Middlefork Reservoir to the north.

“Eventually, there will be the connection to the Cardinal Greenway trail. At some point in the future, it could connect out to Clear Creek Park, to Earlham (College), it could connect north to the hospital and the university campuses, also then connecting further east to Glen Miller Park, Hayes Arboretum,” Fields said.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities for additional connections, so that we can ensure that the residents here and our visitors as well are able to easily navigate with whatever mode of transportation that they’re using whether that’s on foot, on bike, (or) in a vehicle.”

Jason Truitt is the team leader and senior reporter at the Palladium-Item. Contact him at 765-973-4459 or [email protected]

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