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Planners gather input on Old Plank Road Trail extension but some Dyer leaders still skeptical

The proposed Old Plank Road Trail extension would cross under U.S. 30 using an existing underpass designed for that purpose in Lynwood, as seen in this trail visualization.
The proposed Old Plank Road Trail extension would cross under U.S. 30 using an existing underpass designed for that purpose in Lynwood, as seen in this trail visualization.

Planners are gathering input on a proposed bike trail extension connecting Dyer and Schererville with communities in Illinois.

The Old Plank Road Trail currently runs from Joliet to Chicago Heights, but a feasibility study is underway to extend it to the Pennsy Greenway in Schererville, using an inactive railroad corridor. The section between Dyer's Central Park and the Pennsy Greenway has already had funding allocated through the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC).

Transportation planner Lissa Sweeney with Civiltech Engineering is the study's project manager. "Generally, there's been a lot of support to utilize the inactive rail line along the entire stretch," Sweeney told Lakeshore Public Media during a project open house in Schererville Thursday.

There is a challenge in Chicago Heights, where industry has taken over the old railroad corridor. Planners are recommending routing bikes on 16th Street and Wentworth Avenue, to get around it. They're also exploring opportunities for development along the trail. That can range from benches and water stations to public art and restaurants.

Sweeney said, in addition to surveys and public open houses, the team has also invited businesses, schools, park departments and other stakeholders to take part in focus groups.

Still, some people in Dyer aren't convinced.

Mary Tanis is a member of the town council and serves as Dyer's representative to NIRPC. "One of the things that I have said repeatedly at the NIRPC meetings is that this is really nice, this is a nice plan, but count Dyer out," Tanis said. "We're not part of it. We see too many negatives, and so stop it right now."

She worries that providing another pathway to Illinois, even a non-motorized one, could lead to more crime. "We already have problems," Tanis said. "People coming in from Illinois, they follow the train tracks and they come into our communities and that's where the crime happens, whether it's at gas stations being robbed, whether it's the grocery stores people are going into."

Dyer is often considered one of the safest communities in Indiana.

There have also been environmental concerns near the proposed corridor, which, in addition to railroad tracks, has also housed pipelines. Last year, construction crews working nearby noticed a petroleum smell, and a meter detected the presence of benzene. Tanis also has concerns with part of the Illinois section.

Sweeney said planners have already begun coordinating with railroad and utility companies. "We are also taking into consideration wetlands and a few other environmental reviews," Sweeney added.

Tanis said she's proposed another route for a bike trail, which she believes would be safer.

Planners hope to wrap up the feasibility study by the spring or summer, before planning moves on to the engineering phase.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.