River Valley trail plan approvedPublished 9:46pm Monday, March 18, 2013
Twenty people spoke in favor of the Indiana-Michigan River Valley Trail in the public comment portion of Monday’s Niles Charter Township board meeting.
Three more people wrote letters in support of the trail.
All that mattered for trail supporters, though, was that all seven board members voted in favor of a bid proposal that essentially moves forward the township’s portion of the 34-mile recreational trail, that, when finished, will connect the city of Niles to Mishawaka, Ind.
Niles Township’s portion runs 4.5 miles from the state line north to Niles.
Prior to the board’s decision, Niles City Councilman Daniel VandenHeede said he, and the city of Niles, is excited to see the trail finally connect.
“You guys literally could be the missing link of all of that when it’s done. I think that would be a shame,” he said.
Over the past couple months, at least three township board members have expressed concerns over the safety of a proposed at-grade crossing for where the trail would cross at U.S. 12 and Third Street. It was unclear until Monday if the board would be willing to go forward with the project because of this potential safety issue.
Their concerns came as a surprise to trail supporters, who pointed out the plan had already received approval by the Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Southwest Michigan Planning Commission and others.
If the plan was not approved Monday, trail supporters said the township would likely lose more than $800,000 in state funding already secured for the plan.
The township was scheduled to vote on the engineering plan by Whiteman & Associates on March 4, but the issue was tabled until Monday.
Jim Stover, township supervisor, said the extra two weeks allowed board members to further review the safety of the plan through discussion and visits to comparable intersections.
Under the plan, the intersection will receive safety upgrades, including pedestrian crossing signals and additional signage.
No one spoke against the plan for the crossing.
The cost of Whiteman & Associate’s bid proposal for engineering work on the intersection is $99,800. The majority of the project is being paid for through state grants.