Another small piece of the planned Dunes-Kankakee Trail can be built this summer now that Porter County has agreed to maintain it after it's built.
The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to maintain the 3/4-mile section from the Indiana Dunes Tourism visitors center to the intersection of Ind. 49 and U.S. 20. Bids are to be opened April 3 by the Indiana Department of Transportation, and work could begin by May.
The project is dependent on bids being acceptable, which was not the case for another section from the South Shore railroad bridge to U.S. 12. Bids for that were opened in February and were too high. No decision has been made on rebidding that project. A third INDOT section of the trail between U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 along Ind. 49 is under design for possible construction in 2014.
County Plan Commission Director Bob Thompson said the estimated cost of the 3/4-mile piece is $560,000. The state is paying 80 percent of the cost, and the county's share of $125,000 will come from a Regional Development Authority grant through the Porter County Redevelopment Commission.
The maintenance will be handled by the county Parks Department and will consist mostly of replacing any damaged signs and removing snow, Thompson said. Thompson said the county plans to do a feasibility study of the the best route for the trail from the southern border of Chesterton to Valparaiso.
Porter and Chesterton have done studies of the best route through their communities, and Valparaiso is continuing to build its own trail system while it waits for decisions to be made on where it will enter the city. City Parks Director John Seibert said the city is ready whether the route comes down Calumet Avenue, Campbell Street or Ind. 49.
"Another piece we are studying as part of the U.S. 30 corridor plan is how to get across U.S. 30," Seibert said. "There's a real desire to connect to the whole county system."
Once the trail crosses U.S. 30, the county will figure out how to get it to Division Road. That will complete the first phase. Figuring out how to take it farther south to the Kankakee River through Kouts and with an arm connecting it to Hebron will be a bigger challenge because of the lack of available right of way on Ind. 49 south of Division.
"It probably will take a good 20 years," tourism Executive Director Lorelei Weimer said, referring to the entire trail. "I'd like to see us solidify the route from Chesterton to Valparaiso and from Valparaiso south. Once we've got that, we can go after the money to build it."
The trail is expected to cost about $1 million a mile, and the first phase is about 20 miles. Despite the daunting challenges of the project, Weimer said it has made progress more rapidly than she thought when it was first proposed.
"The progress we've made in a couple of years has been tremendous," she said. "It wouldn't have happened if INDOT had not put in bike lanes on the bridges they put in over U.S. 12 and U.S. 20 and the South Shore."
Weimer said Indiana Dunes State Park roughed in its section of the path last year but didn't pave it. That hasn't prevented bikers from using it, and she predicted that, as the trail is built and more people can use it, demand will grow to complete it all the way to the river.
While most of the emphasis for trail funding has gone to more populated areas, the Dunes-Kankakee Trail ranks high with INDOT because it is a needed north/south corridor. That could be vital for obtaining funding with the current federal budget hassles threatening funds for transportation enhancement projects like trails.