Richmond’s East Main Street and the Depot District are prepared for Phase 2 of the Loop transportation improvement project now that trees have been cleared.

Milestone Contractors, however, will not begin construction until after the April 8 total solar eclipse, Mayor Ron Oler said. The Indiana Department of Transportation and the contractor control the project timeline based on weather, availability of materials and staffing. INDOT did not respond to an email about the project timeline, but Oler said he’s been told the Loop should be completed by Thanksgiving.

INDOT requires trees be removed before April 1 to lessen impacts on Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats. The same requirement caused tree removal to take place this month for the South G Street bridge project.

In addition, Indiana American Water Co. is replacing pipes under Fort Wayne Avenue, closing that street. Oler said the Loop project includes milling and paving Fort Wayne Avenue, and the water company is replacing pipes before that occurs.

“My strong hope is, fixing the utilities now before the end of summer when that street is milled and paved, we won’t have to dig it up again,” Oler said.

Phase 2 of the state Complete Streets project closes the Loop begun as part of Richmond’s Stellar Communities program. That initial phase was completed in June 2019. INDOT rescheduled the second phase from 2022 because of COVID-19 project impacts.

The new construction installs paths along East Main Street from Seventh to 10th streets and along Fort Wayne Avenue and North E Street in the Depot District to connect with the previous work. 

Oler said he supports the Loop as a “multimodal path” that’s more pedestrian friendly and promotes bicycling. The mayor said other forms of transportation could also use the paths, but deferred sharing additional details until the Loop is completed.

Bump-outs with trees and landscaping will be part of the finished downtown; however, Oler said the less-impactful Depot District plan does not include bump-outs in order to maximize parking, which will actually see an increase in spaces. The East Main Street plan will straighten the roadway and also increase the number of on-street parking spaces.

Construction is expected to begin downtown, closing one block of East Main Street at a time, Oler said. A similar one-block plan was used for the tree removal.

Oler said INDOT has been more receptive with Phase 2 about allowing the city’s parks department to select the landscaping plants. Phase 1 landscaping didn’t last with plants inappropriate for Indiana.

The Loop concept is important to further downtown development at the former Elder-Beerman site and through Revitalize Richmond, a $25 million Lilly Endowment grant awarded Earlham College.

“It helps with the market-rate apartments that are coming at the former Elder-Beerman site,” Oler said.

The developer of those apartments, Flaherty & Collins Properties of Indianapolis, almost always builds near a bike path, Oler said. 

After his election, Oler inquired about further delaying Loop construction because of the other downtown development projects. He wanted to work on the buildings, which might need additional utility work below the surface, prior to completing surface work.

“My concern was the timing,” Oler said. “As contractors come in and start remodeling those storefronts and those apartments, are they going to drive over and damage some bricks? Are we going to have to replace some bricks?”

INDOT, however, said he could not delay the project. The project was let Nov. 15, and INDOT awarded the bid to Milestone in December. Milestone’s $4.748 million bid was the lowest of three bidders.

The Loop concept dates to a 2011 transportation plan approved by Richmond Common Council. It moved to a Complete Streets Initiative, then the Stellar Communities program in June 2013 when Richmond received that designation.

INDOT awarded Richmond grant funding in March 2018 to pay 80% of the Phase 2 cost and the cost of the Whitewater Gorge Connector Trail through Wayne County Veterans Memorial Park. That trail officially opened during October 2021.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 27 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.