From $4.4m to 17.3m+: Spending Climbs for Nickel Plate Trail

When the Nickel Plate Trail (NTP) was presented to the community of Fishers, it was tagged with a price tag of just over $9 million. Specifically the number $9.3 million for approximately 9.2 miles of trail going through both Fishers and Noblesville was presented. For the Fishers portion of the trail, the City Council informed the community in various public meetings that the cost would be around $4.4 million for the Fishers section of the trail.

Many in the community were up in arms regarding the idea of ripping out the rails to put in a trial. They wanted to see the rails retained and the trail put beside it. Unfortunately, it was reported that retaining the rail would raise the cost by at least $20.5 million, so it was dropped from consideration.

After the trial project started, the City quickly clarified that the $4.4 million price originally quoted was for the asphalt only. This was a bid disingenuous being that the cost of the underpass at 116th was not included in the cost. It was never clear whether the crossings at the other roads were included; however, one would clearly assume that since the trail had been presented at a cost of $4.4 million, that the trail would be usable for that price. To not include the cost of the crossings would be like buying a steak at a nice restaurant and then getting charged for them to cook it and put it on a plate.

When I asked a member of the Nickel Plate Trail committee, who is also a City Council member, about the cost of the underpass, I could not get a number in email or over the phone. Rather, I was asked to meet in person where I was given a number of $2.5 to $3.5 million. I was the only one in the room and this was not put in writing, so you’ll have to take my word that this is what I was told. At the time I was given those numbers, the City website for the trail still indicated the original numbers of $9.3 million for the entire trail with roughly half that being Fishers.

So $4.4 million with an added cost of $3.5 for an underpass would put the project at roughly $8 million for primarily just the asphalt. That doesn’t include sidewalks to get to the trail on 131st Street (where it can be dangerous coming from Lantern Road) or on 106th Street. It also doesn’t include any of the bells and whistles presented in the marketing plan that the City posted for the trail.

Nickel Plate Trail Numbers From The City: $17.3 million + $5 million

Today, October 11th, the City Council was provided with an update for the Nickle Plate Trail. A council member had previously asked for an update listing the current spending for the trail. It would also be nice to see a projection of what is left to be spent, a number that is likely over the original project cost for the whole trail.

Here is the spending so far:

  • $3,644,000 for the Outer Trail – 106th Street to 146th Street –
  • $8,382,538 for the Downtown Core – South Street to 116th Street (Phase 1) – The City noted a Cost Savings Shifted to Phase 2b of $393,000
  • $3,269,334 for the Downtown Core –116th Street to North Street (Phase 2a) – The City noted that a cost savings won’t be realized until substantial completion in March 2022
  • $1,964,782 for the Downtown Core –South Street to North Street (Phase 2b) – The City noted a cost savings won’t be realized until substantial completion in May 2022

There is still the Outer Trail to be done. This is from 96th Street to 106th Street and is estimated to cost $5 million. The City plans is submitting for a $5 million DNR NLT Grant; however, past submissions to get costs of the NPT covered have been turned down. This $5 million is expected to cover the asphalt in that section as well as cover a pedestrian bridge over 96th Street. The picture provided by the City fails to include a Speed Table Crossing over Hague at the crossing between 96th and 106th, but that will need to be included as well. It is worth noting that some of the pedestrian bridges for the Monon Trail have cost over $5 million each – for just the construction of the bridges. Federal money has helped with some of those, so maybe this is the time Fishers will be approved for the grant. Even so, the projection of $5 million to cover the remaining section of the trail including the bridge does not seem fiscally sound based on past spending.

Nickel Plate Trial Status

Missing Costs for the Nickel Plate Trail

It is fantastic that the City has finally provided some insight into the actual spending for the Nickle Plate Trail. With the numbers being nearly quadruple what the sold to the public, it is not surprising it has taken this long to see them presented.

But there is still a lot of work to be done. As such, the public should push the City to provide an actual budget instead of a SWAG on what the remaining costs are going to be for not only the base asphalt, but also for what was presented in the Nickel Plate Trail Project Plan. This trail was not sold on simply being a slab of asphalt, but rather as lot of sizzle.

Additionally, the City should be called upon to provide updates on when sidewalks will be built to allow for the community to access the trail at all of the crossings as was implied with the original proposal. Until sidewalks are included at the major intersections of 131st and 106th, the trail should not be considered complete.

A Free Coke

When this trail was being presented, I talked to a City Council member about the cost and how realistic they were. The $4.4 million seemed like a crazy fantasy. I commented that I expected the trail would cost at least $30 million. I was assured that the cost would “come nowhere close to that”. In fact, while the Council member who said this doesn’t like to bet, I got him to agree to a bet of a coke if the cost got to $30 million. Unless something changes, I’d say there is a good chance he is going to lose the bet. It will be interesting to see if the bet is paid.

Parting Thought….

I will use the Nickel Plate Trail. My comments in this post are not about the trail itself, but rather about the fiscal responsibility of our City to the community. There is a trend to understate expected costs and for final costs to be substantially over what was initially stated to the public. The City presented a cost for the trail and a project plan that changed those costs. As can be seen, the costs have gone up and most of what is in the proposal is not planned. There needs to be accountability in what is happening in our City.

From the City

For more information on the construction schedule and real-time updates, the public can visit the Engineering Department’s website: or the Parks Department’s


I thought it worth adding a picture from the NPT Master Plan. The following image is what was placed in the plan for the 96th Street crossing. Note that with the type of facilities being brought to the airport land, it is doubtful that clear prairie views are going to be there. I also doubt that people will be wanting to get married on a platform — as was stated at one of the early public presentations of the trail — if such a platform is actually built.

96th and NPT

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