On either side of State Road 135, sidewalks stretch for nearly 2 miles along the recently expanded highway.
The walkways give safe passage to walkers, runners and bikers looking to go from Stones Crossing Road north to churches, restaurants and neighborhoods.
But less than a half-mile from the newly built Walmart and other retail locations, the walkways end. The only option for pedestrians is the curb of a busy four-lane road.
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“One of these days, someone is going to get hurt or worse out here,” said Eric Dykes, a White River Township resident and bicyclist in the area.
During the past five years, miles of trailways, sidewalks and bike paths have been built in the White River Township area for pedestrians.
Trail supporters argue that more needs to be done. Gaps in the system mean that safely getting from one area to the next can’t be done without going out onto busy county roads.
County leaders would like to see more connectivity, but no plans are in place to do so.
In cities such as Greenwood and Franklin, parks departments have taken on the role of designing, building and maintaining a complex system of trails. The unincorporated area of White River Township makes the task difficult, as no single entity oversees the area.
Trails that have been built have been paid for by nonprofit groups, Center Grove schools and the Johnson County Highway Department. The county also has rules in place requiring developers to build sidewalks with any new commercial or residential development, and many have put in walkways extending away from the entrance of those neighborhoods.
Center Grove Trails, a nonprofit group formed to raise money for trails, teamed up with the Johnson County Highway Department to secure a grant from the Safe Routes to School program.
That approximately $700,000 grant paid for a 2.1-mile loop of trails completed early this year around Center Grove High School, Center Grove Middle School Central and Center Grove Elementary School. The walkway and bridge system connects the schools to Brentridge Estates north and east of the campuses, allowing students to walk without traversing along busy roads, said Anita Knowles, president of Center Grove Trails.
With the work finished, the group plans to use the remaining funds raised to install a monument along the trail, Knowles said. Afterward, the group will dissolve.
“We’re hopeful that now that the trails are built and a lot of people are using them, maybe (Center Grove) will be interested in connecting some more of their schools to some of the other neighborhoods,” Knowles said. “Maybe there are other trustees that can come together to do that.”
In the most recent comprehensive plan, Johnson County officials outlined the need for additional trails and sidewalks. The plan lists White River Township as heavily recommended for future trails. A pathway along State Road 135 between County Line Road and Bargersville was identified as a primary corridor.
County leaders identified more trails that could be built along road rights of way, according to the plan.
But finding funding is a problem, said Mike Pelham, county highway engineer.
Past projects have been paid for with federal programs, such as the Safe Routes to Schools grant, which provided 100 percent of the costs for planning, construction and consulting.
That grant program now requires 20 percent of the funds to come from local sources. With budgets already razor thin for road projects, that isn’t feasible, Pelham said.
“It would make future projects much more costly for us,” he said.
To get a trailway along one of the busiest arteries in the township, the Indiana Department of Transportation stepped up.
As part of the expansion of State Road 135 between Curry and Stones Crossing roads, the state paid for sidewalks on both sides of the highway. The pathways allowed for people to more easily move north and south in the 1.6-mile section of the road.
But the sidewalks were installed along only the newly expanded road. With no other projects planned in that area, the state will not build any additional trailways along the highway, said Will Wingfield, INDOT spokesman.
Within city and town limits, the state maintains highways only curb-to-curb. Trail maintenance and construction would fall to local governments — in this case Greenwood, Wingfield said.
The trails and sidewalks that have been built in recent years have made some aspects of pedestrian travel easier. Still, the gaps in the walkway system are problematic.
Dykes lives in the Kensington neighborhood just south of Center Grove High School. The longtime White River Township resident has watched as some trail systems have come together but has remained frustrated at the lack of a cohesive network that allows people to travel around the community in anything other than a car.
Recently, Dykes tried to ride his bicycle from his house to the new Walmart at Smith Valley Road and State Road 135. Much of the time, he had to ride on the side of the road.
“It’s about impossible to get around on the main streets,” he said. “Anybody that wants to ride around there, there’s just no place to do it.”
Even when he reached State Road 135 and took advantage of the new sidewalks, Dykes eventually had to brave traffic conditions.
“They really need to connect all of these things so people have a safe place to use if they don’t want to take a car,” he said.
The Center Grove trails group hopes more trails will come in the future.
A stretch of trailway was built in 2013 along Whiteland Road from State Road 135 to County Road 144, forming a 2¼-mile corridor past homes, apartment buildings, churches and youth athletic fields. That work was done as part of a project to widen Whiteland Road.
Knowles sees that as part of a larger loop that she and other trail supporters would eventually link Whiteland and Stones Crossing roads.
“If they keep working and extending it north on (State Road) 135, we’re hoping that it can eventually connect,” Knowles said. “Eventually, we could connect with Greenwood as their trails extend west.”
Bargersville also has plans to develop trails connecting its downtown area to State Road 135.
Progress is being made, and trails proponents are confident that a safe network of walkways will slowly spread throughout White River Township.
“This is great news for those people that want to walk or ride their bicycles for exercise,” Knowles said. “Eventually, when (State Road) 135 is widened and we continue working on the east-west corridor, someday people can walk or ride their bicycles safely across the entire county.”