RDA Board of Directors Approves Grants for NICTD, Legacy Foundation

Milton Reed (right) was sworn in at today's board meeting as East Chicago's representative on the RDA Board of Directors.

Milton Reed (right) was sworn in at today’s board meeting as East Chicago’s representative on the RDA Board of Directors.

The Board of the Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) today took another step toward expanding commuter access to Chicago with a $1.6 million matching grant to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) to help fund $4 million in preliminary engineering and environmental work for the South Shore double tracking project.

“Expanding capacity on the existing South Shore line is critical to boosting the economy and creating new jobs here in Northwest Indiana,” said Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the RDA. “Along with the West Lake Extension, double tracking will attract new residents, new businesses and new development to the region and put us on a sustainable, long-term path to growth.”

The $1.6 million grant will help offset the cost of the project for NICTD while it seeks additional contributions from partners in the region, including funding from the Northern Indiana Regional Development Authority. This preliminary engineering and environmental analysis must be completed before NICTD can seek Core Capacity funding from the Department of Transportation for the double tracking project.

“The Northwest Indiana RDA’s continuing commitment to invest in the South Shore Line and the West Lake Extension is greatly appreciated,” said Mike Noland, CEO and General Manager of the South Shore Line/NICTD. “Our shared vision of the benefits that flow from sound investments in the railroad will pay dividends to our riders, the residents of our four-county service region and all the citizens of the great state of Indiana.”

The double tracking project would add a second full track to the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City. Currently, the South Shore line is only double tracked from Chicago to Tennessee Street in Gary. After that, the South Shore has only a single track for both eastbound and westbound trains. As a result, trains must regularly slow or stop on passing sidings to allow a train travelling in the opposite direction to pass.

Double-tracking would greatly reduce commuting times to and from Chicago by allowing the South Shore to increase the number and speed of trains it runs each day. This will elevate the region above its suburban Illinois counterparts in the competition for Transit-Oriented Development, new businesses and new residents.

The Board also approved a $75,000 matching grant to the Legacy Foundation for its Neighborhood Spotlight initiative in Gary’s Miller neighborhood.

“Over the past two years, the Legacy Foundation and its partners have worked with residents of Miller to identify key assets in their neighborhood and build consensus around a vision for their future,” Hanna said. “Among those assets are the South Shore train station and Marquette Park, which are not only important to Miller but are also signature transportation and shoreline resources for the entire region. This grant will help Legacy and the residents of Miller maintain, improve and increase access to those properties for the benefit of all of Northwest Indiana.”

“Legacy Foundation is grateful for the generous support provided by the Regional Development Authority,” said Legacy Foundation President Carolyn Saxton. “Through the planning that has taken place with Neighborhood Spotlight’s collective impact initiative, RDA funding will be directed to solving community problems, creating opportunities and taking action steps to enhance the lives of people who live, work or play in Gary’s Miller neighborhood.”

Neighborhood Spotlight provides a framework for capacity-building, planning and implementation block by block. It is modeled after successful community development work in Indianapolis and Chicago. Neighborhood Spotlight guides a cross-section of community members who work collaboratively and collectively on improving quality of life in their neighborhoods. A convening organization, usually a community-based organization, will spearhead the coordination of neighborhood relationships. Miller hired a community builder and formed The Miller Spotlight Steering Committee to help carry out their community quality of life study.

The Steering Committee conducted more than 200 one-on-one interviews with residents to see what they felt were their community’s greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 4,013 comments were collected during the SWOT process. Over the course of the next steps in the Neighborhood Spotlight initiative a plan of action will be created from these findings.

Experts Say Better Commuter Access to Chicago is Key to The Region’s Future

The decline of heavy manufacturing is producing a “long-term structural shift” in the economy of Northwest Indiana, say Indiana University Northwest assistant professor of economics Micah Pollack and his colleague professor of finance Bala Arshanapalli. To meet the region’s need for good, high-paying jobs, they urge infrastructure investments that would improve connectivity to Chicago.

Pollak sees hope in infrastructure jobs that would better connect Northwest Indiana with high-paying jobs in Chicago. That would include the current plan to expand the South Shore commuter rail line to suburban communities in Lake County.

“Historically, Northwest Indiana has been different from other suburbs like Schaumburg,” he said. “They’re quite affluent areas as a result of different local policies, such as public transportation that lets residents get to downtown Chicago fast.”

He points out it’s more difficult for people to locate in Merrillville than Naperville, because the latter has a higher-frequency of commuter trains at a more consistent speed going to downtown Chicago. Also, people in Naperville don’t have to drive 15 to 20 minutes for a 45-minute train ride.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District are currently funding the initial environmental impact study for the West Lake Corridor. This is the first step towards applying for federal matching funds for the $571 million project. Scheduled to begin service by 2023, West Lake together with improvements on the existing line will put Northwest Indiana on a level playing field with our real competitors: those Illinois suburbs around Chicago. Since 1970, those suburbs have outgrown Northwest Indiana 17 to 1 in population and taken the lion’s share of new and expanding business. Clusters of business and development have grown up in places like Naperville because of access to transit.

Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional commuter transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash bus service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. The West Lake Corridor expansion will result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

Porter County Airport Project Gets Final Local Match

portrer county airportThe Porter County Council has agreed to contribute $317,197 to a pot of state and local funds that will unlock more than $10 million in federal funds for the reconstruction of the main runway at the Porter County Regional Airport.

While a large sum, the true value of the money is its linchpin role in securing the balance of the funding for the massive $11.3 million project.

The Federal Aviation Administration is contributing 90 percent of the money, the state is picking up 5 percent and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority agreed to provide half of the remaining 5 percent as long as the county comes up with the other half, Porter County Municipal Airport Authority President Paul Chael told the council.

The RDA approved its portion of the match last August. “Just like the airport in Gary, the Porter County airport is a significant driver of regional economic activity,” RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said at the time. “A 2012 estimate put its economic impact at more than $17 million annually. This grant is a small but vital piece to access federal funding for urgently needed repairs and upgrades.”

The overall project includes rehabilitation and reconstruction on runway 9-27, which is in danger of falling below minimum service levels, as well as completion of a High Intensity Runway Lighting Rehabilitation project which would replace lighting components that are beyond their service lifetime. According to the airport, work on runway 9-27 is set to begin this spring and take about 70 days to complete.

RDA Seeking Proposals for Transit-Oriented Development Planning

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (NWIRDA) is seeking sealed proposals from qualified consulting firms to implement a federally sponsored Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Pilot Planning Project in support of TOD efforts for the West Lake Corridor communities of Hammond, Munster and Dyer, IN as more fully described and defined in the proposal packet, as prepared by the NWIRDA. All proposals must meet NWIRDA’s specifications as further described in the proposal packet.

Proposal form packet, including specifications, is available between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., local time, at the following location:

9800 Connecticut Drive
Crown Point, IN 46307
Ph (219) 644-3500
Email: sziller@rda.in.gov
Attn: Sherri Ziller, Chief Operating Officer

Proposal packet is to be requested by email. Your request should include the company name, address, phone/fax numbers, email address, and the individual’s name to respond to. Information regarding the competitive proposal can be found at www.in.gov/rda (Go to “RFP/RFQ”)

Firms will be provided a copy of the competitive proposal packet in electronic format. The proposer will be responsible for the printing of all documents.

Proposals shall be submitted in a sealed opaque envelope clearly marked “TOD Consulting Services”, which shall be contained within an outer shipping envelope and received at:

9800 Connecticut Drive
Crown Point, IN 46307
Attn: Sherri Ziller, Chief Operating Officer

Proposals will be received not later than 2:30 p.m., local time, Friday, April 1, 2016. The proposal opening is not open to the public. Proposals received after the above stated time and date will be returned to the sender unopened.

NWIRDA reserves the right to reject any and all proposals and/or waive minor discrepancies, omissions, variances or irregularities in any proposal, provided it is in the NWIRDA’s best interest to do so. No proposal can be withdrawn for a period of ninety (90) days after the proposals are opened. NWIRDA reserves the right to enter into negotiations with the most responsive and responsible proposer without conducting interviews with any proper if, in its sole opinion, the best possible proposal has been received and interviews would not be productive.

RDA Board Elects Officers for 2016

The Board of the Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) today elected officers for 2016 and welcomed the newest Board member, Tom Golab.

The Board re-elected Don Fesko to the position of Chairman. Former Treasurer Bill Joiner, the City of Gary’s representative on the Board and its longest-serving member, was elected Vice Chairman. Porter County appointee Chris Campbell was elected Treasurer in Joiner’s place.

New Board member Tom Golab was sworn in by RDA attorney Dave Hollenbeck. Golab is one of two appointments to the RDA Board of Directors made by Gov. Mike Pence (the other being Chairman Fesko). He will serve a four-year term.

2015: The Year in Review

?????It’s been a very busy year for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. As we head into the final week of 2015, here’s a look back at some RDA highlights from the past 12 months.

In what was probably the most important development, the RDA worked in concert with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), local civic and business leaders, and the Northwest Indiana delegation to the General Assembly to secure a $180 million state investment to expand South Shore commuter rail service in Lake County via the West Lake Corridor. In 2016 the RDA and NICTD will complete initial environmental and planning work, and make a formal request to the Federal Transit Administration to enter project development.

This past year also saw the RDA, the City of Gary, the region and the State all celebrate the completion of the runway expansion and railroad relocation project at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. We also provided part of the funding for a $13.5 million road realignment project near the Gary airport which will facilitate an expansion of Carmeuse Lime and development of an industrial park in the airport’s footprint.

Our efforts to improve the Lake Michigan shoreline focused on East Chicago in 2015. We saw the completion of the Unity Plaza project and the start of work on the Promenade at Jeorse Beach and on retail development in the North Harbor area. All of this was part of the first phase of the city’s Waterfront Revitalization Initiative. In 2015, the RDA Board of Directors approved a second grant of $12.9 million for phase II of the initiative.

The Board also approved a $6 million grant to the Town of Munster to support a $35 million street realignment project that will open the way for transit-oriented development in Munster once the West Lake Corridor is put through. Additionally, RDA also provided a $317,000 grant to the Porter County Regional Airport to act as matching funds to secure more than $12 million for runway and equipment improvements, and a $250,000 grant to assist in keeping dial-a-ride service going in North Township. That RDA grant provides a match to access $1.25 million in federal money.

2015 also saw the first use of the Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund, with the Board approving approximately $400,000 for remediation work at the site of the Ambassador Apartments in Gary. The year also marked two of the last uses of the RDA’s deal-closing fund, which provided financial support for the relocation of American Stair from Illinois to Hammond and Hoist Liftrucks from Illinois to East Chicago. Our authority for that program was terminated by the General Assembly during the 2015 session.

In 2016, the RDA will focus most strongly on transportation-related initiatives, including: the West Lake Corridor; upgrades to the existing South Shore line; and transit-oriented development planning. We would like to thank all those who have worked with us and supported us over the past year, and look forward to continuing our trusted, tested, results-oriented partnership in the year ahead.

Gary Airport Releases RFQ for Master Plan Update

runwayThe Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from firms to provide professional planning and engineering services to update the airport’s vision for the next 20+ years of airport development.

RFQ responses are due January 7, 2016.

The last Master Plan Study for the airport was completed in 2001. That plan called for several major projects, including improved Runway Safety Areas, railroad and power line relocation, improved and new facilities, and extending the airport’s main runway.

The airport has accomplished many of the goals outlined in the 2001 Master Plan. Among them, the airport added a second fixed-base operator, B. Coleman Aviation, and two new, LEED-certified hangars at Gary Jet Center. Additionally, the $174 million Runway Expansion Project was completed in July 2015. The project:

  • Upgraded Runway Safety Areas to be in compliance with new Federal Aviation Administration standards;
  • Relocated 4.6 miles of railroad track, more than 20,000 feet of power lines, and a substation; and
  • Extended the main runway by 1,900 feet, allowing the airport to accommodate larger planes and serve more destinations.

Earlier this year, the airport’s private partner AFCO/AvPORTS also released its Vision plan for future development at the airport, which includes securing a customs facility and returning commercial airline service to the airport by 2017.

Visit the airport’s website to view the Request for Qualifications. Qualified teams will be interviewed and a contract is expected in March 2016.

The State of Indiana and the RDA invested a total of $50 million in the rail relocation and runway expansion project at the airport. According to a return-on-investment analysis done in 2012, the airport expansion will generate more than 2,000 new jobs, primarily in transportation, warehousing and manufacturing, by 2025. The RDA recently approved a $7.5 million matching grant to the City of Gary to improve road access to industrial sites near the airport to further encourage development.