South Shore Double Tracking Project Moves Forward

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) announced today that it received approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation to enter Project Development for its long anticipated project to double track the South Shore Line from Tennessee Street in Gary, Indiana, to the Michigan Blvd. in Michigan City, Indiana, a distance of approximately 25 miles.

The estimated $210 million project is expected to add 5,000 – 8,000 daily riders to the South Shore Line, increase train frequency by 30%, and improve on-time performance. In addition, double tracking the South Shore Line will allow the railroad to significantly reduce travel times along the line especially at station locations farther away from Chicago.

In March of this year, the NICTD Board of Trustees approved a $4M contract for HDR Engineering to lead the preliminary engineering and environmental studies necessary to request a federal rating of the double tracking project next year. The approval to enter Project Development by the FTA represents their validation of the importance of the project, and also puts the project into the federal pipeline for a 50% matching grant under their Capital Investment Grant program. The Northwest Indiana RDA has committed $1.6M, and Northern Indiana RDA has pledged $800,000 towards the HDR contract.

It is NICTD’s goal to seek a project rating by the FTA in late 2017, which if successful, would lead to a funding recommendation in the President’s 2018 budget. Once approved by Congress, the project is anticipated to commence construction in 2019, with completion in late 2020.

According to NICTD’s General Manager, Michael Noland, the double tracking project “leverages upon years of intelligent, targeted and sustained reinvestment in the infrastructure of the South Shore Line. People always ask me, when can we reduce the travel time to Chicago from South Bend to 90 minutes, or 60 minutes from Michigan City? I tell them double track the railroad, and we can make that happen.”

Noland stated that “double tracking the railroad unlocks the incredible potential of this region.” Bill Hanna, President of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority stated that, in his opinion, “once the federal government approves the project, tens of millions of dollars of investment will pour into the region for transit oriented development opportunities along the rail line in Hammond, Miller/Lake Street, Michigan City, Gary, East Chicago, Chesterton, and Portage.” Hanna emphasized “this type of investment is only the tip of the iceberg of the economic development that is associated with the completion of this project.” The return on investment for the State of Indiana is huge, according to Hanna. “It’s probably a minimum of 4 to 5 times the State investment that’s required, and a key element, in tandem with the West Lake extension, in attracting and retaining population to this

The next step in this process, in addition to completing the preliminary engineering and environmental studies, is locking up the all important local/state share of $105 million to qualify for federal funding.

RDA Joins Region in Honoring Key Players in RDA History

Last week, the Northwest Indiana Times honored two key figures in the history of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, retiring state Senator Earline Rogers and former RDA Board of Directors Vice-Chairman Harley Snyder.

Sen. Rogers was instrumental in getting the legislation establishing the RDA passed through the Indiana General Assembly, a fact acknowledged by former Gov. Mitch Daniels in his video introduction of Sen. Rogers at the Times’ Business & Industry Hall of Fame induction.

In her keynote address, Sen.Rogers cited the legislation as the kind of compromise needed to make government work.

Rogers lost her post as assistant Democratic leader as a result of her vote, but she said partnering with Daniels produced a greater long-term benefit by creating the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

“We worked together and got the RDA $100 million in that bill, $20 million for the Gary airport and also a minorities in the construction trades operation. So I thought it was a vote that was well worth it,” Rogers said.

IMG_1341Among those who worked to ensure that the RDA would live up to Sen. Rogers’ expectations, few did so more tirelessly than Harley Snyder. Harley is a founding board member of the RDA and served as Vice-Chairman until early 2016. His expertise in real estate and land development were crucial to the RDA’s success, particularly in the long process to complete the rail relocation and runway extension project at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

RDA Chief Executive Bill Hanna said Snyder was chosen for the authority’s board not just because of his success in business, but also for his willingness to give back to others.

On the RDA board, he did much more than just attend monthly meetings. He was a key go-between for the RDA and Gary/Chicago International Airport, which underwent a successful $174 million runway expansion and forged a historic public-private partnership.

“He has worked for the RDA for over a decade for free,” Hanna said. “And he is a person who really believes that you should give back something to the next generation and those that follow. It’s been a privilege to work with him.”

The staff and Board of the RDA would like to add its thanks and congratulations to Sen. Rogers and Harley Snyder. We are grateful for all they have done on behalf of Northwest Indiana, and we look forward to continuing their legacy as we work to make the region and better place to live, work and play.

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
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 (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.