Modern suburban life is all about convenience. You can get in your car, and drive to the grocery store, the library, or your favorite restaurant within a few minute’s time. But these short trips add up quickly, straining roads, vehicles, and the planet alike, according to the EPA
More than that, some experts believe it's even straining personal relationships and community attachment in suburban communities, causing residents to lose that spontaneous connection with the people and places around them that comes with walking or biking.
As a result, one of Fort Wayne's busiest and growing suburban communities is making some changes to combat these effects.
Walkers enjoy a newly built section of the Pufferbelly Trail.
An expansion of Dupont Road, unveiled earlier this month, could mean safer connections for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike. This comprehensive, nearly two-mile project, includes the expansion of the roadway from two to four lanes, plus turn lanes, to provide access to neighborhoods and businesses.
Additionally, the project added sidewalks and trails connecting residents and businesses, new ADA ramps and crosswalks, new traffic and pedestrian signals, decorative lighting and landscaping, stormwater management updates including larger pipes, and new water mains to increase capacity.
But why Dupont Road and why now? According to City of Fort Wayne Public Information Officer Frank Suarez, growth has begotten growth
on the city’s north side.
“The Dupont Road corridor has experienced phenomenal growth in the past 30 years, in the form of housing additions, retail shops and businesses, and community attractions,” he says. “The road went from accommodating 7,500 cars a day up to its current volume of 25,000 plus.”
The city has also been motivated by issues related to safety and congestion for all stakeholders. According to Shan Gunawardena, City of Fort Wayne Public Works Director, this project represents a paradigm shift.
Before the road expansion, people would need to get in their cars just to get across the street. It was neither practical nor a long-term solution.
The City of Fort Wayne invested in the Dupont Road project to plan for future growth.
Now, thanks to this development you can walk on the Pufferbelly Trail
under Dupont Road or use the new crosswalks.
In other words, the road is now an example of intentional design and what happens when you take into account the needs of multiple stakeholders. The hope is that investing in this evolving corridor will result in a positive impact on neighborhoods, residents, and businesses alike.
In addition, Gunawardena says the project is part of a larger, comprehensive plan that’s been in the works for a few decades. His department is charged with tracking trends related to traffic patterns and congestion. In doing so, they’ve kept a watchful eye on a few key areas in the city.
“We've got some of these major corridors where we have seen a lot of growth occur and the capacity of existing infrastructure is not able to handle that increased growth,” he says. “Those are the ones that we are focusing on right now. And Dupont Road was one of the largest ones that we needed to address.”
This came as no surprise to Gunawardena’s team. He says even as early as the 1980s, it was clear that Dupont Road was going to become a “major east-west corridor” in Fort Wayne.
"We anticipated that at some point, we would need to widen it," he says.
That day did come. The data and anecdotal evidence made the case for a public works project on the Dupont Road corridor. So in 2012, the city took action on the execution of the project.
Now that construction is complete, local destinations like Casa Grille and Just Cream Ice Cream Boutique
are benefiting from the added business of pedestrians and cyclists who'd prefer to ditch their cars and use the sidewalk instead.
Gunawardena says the economic impact on the local Dupont area should not be discounted either.
“If you don't provide the infrastructure, people are going to get in their vehicles and drive," he says. "And once they get in their vehicle, their options become a lot greater. So rather than going to the grocery store that is right there, they may end up going to a grocery store that’s several miles away.”
That lost revenue on a small scale really starts to add up. Conversely, area residents and real estate professionals are especially bullish on the Dupont area in light of this investment. Neighborhoods and homes within safe walking distance of such amenities can be a selling point to potential buyers.
“We know that we are having a positive impact on property values, too,” Gunawardena adds.