RDA Board Adopts Updated Strategic Plan

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) formally adopted the RDA’s updated Comprehensive Strategic Plan (CSP) today. The updated CSP provides a detailed road map for commuter rail expansion and related economic development in Northwest Indiana.

“Building the West Lake Corridor extension and double tracking the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City will bring more people, more jobs, higher incomes and hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment to Northwest Indiana,” said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “The term ‘game-changer’ is overused, but in this case it’s absolutely correct. This investment will make Northwest Indiana the first choice in suburban Chicago for new and existing residents, the first choice for businesses to start or expand, and the first choice for access to jobs, both in the region and in Chicago.”

The CSP update was required by the General Assembly in the 2015 legislation that provided $180 million in state funds for the West Lake Corridor Extension. Copies of the new CSP are available at the RDA’s Crown Point offices as well as online at in.gov/rda.

The Board also took action on two other commuter-related projects. First, the Board approved a $6.847 million matching grant to the city of Valparaiso for expansion of the ChicaGo Dash commuter bus service. The grant would fund demolition, site cleaning and construction of a new transit center in downtown Valparaiso. This facility would include a ticket office, waiting area, restrooms, convenience retail space, and a second floor operations office. The City hopes to complete the project by summer 2019.

Second, the Board approved the reallocation of a $4.5 million matching grant provided to the City of Gary in2015. The grant was originally approved as part of the City’s federal TIGER grant application for transit oriented development at the South Shore station in Miller. Due to the competitiveness of the TIGER grant program, Gary was unsuccessful in obtaining an award. However, updating the Miller station and its surroundings is a core component of regional commuter rail expansion as outlined the updated CSP. Therefore the Board has reallocated the original grant to the project itself, contingent upon local and state matching funds being secured.

In other actions today, the Board:

  • Approved an amount not to exceed $25,000 to engage consulting firm Barnes & Thornburg to develop a request for proposals (RFP) to conduct a comprehensive market and feasibility study on additional convention/exposition space in Northwest Indiana.
  • Approved an amount not to exceed $35,000 to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) for technical, facilitation, and account support for the Northwestern Indiana Brownfield Coalition project. NIRPC has worked with the RDA to create, maintain, and grow the project and has served in the role as Assistant Project Manager for the past two years. Funding available through the federal grant for the creation of a Brownfield Program originally funded NIRPC’s support. However, that funding is coming to an end and, in order to maintain continuity and the level of expertise on this project, the RDA will extend its engagement with NIRPC for one year.
  • Approved the oversight and administration policy for proceeds of the Gary Urban Enterprise Association (GUEA). The RDA has worked in conjunction with the City of Gary Redevelopment Commission and Office of the Attorney General for the State of Indiana to reinvest sales proceeds from GUEA back into the community to create a façade improvement rebate program. The Commission will administer the façade improvement rebate program and formally dedicate the escrow account as a fund exclusively for the façade improvement rebate program, subject to the review of the RDA, pursuant to the direction of the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Indiana. The policy details the eligibility, geographic requirements, applicant requirements, eligible and ineligible activities, application process, review process, award detail, methods of reimbursement for use of the GUEA proceeds. The City of Gary Redevelopment Commission adopted the same policies in August 2016.

UPDATE: HAMMOND MEETING LOCATION CHANGED – West Lake Corridor Project Advances at FTA; Public Meetings on Transit Oriented Development Set for Hammond, Munster, Dyer

hammond2The West Lake expansion of the South Shore commuter rail line was recently advanced into the “project development” phase by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The designation moves the project out of the “planning” phase and ensures that local funds spent on South Shore expansion, such as the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority’s recent hiring of an engineering firm to do environmental studies, will be eligible for federal matching funds.

“We are now closer than ever before to the largest commuter rail investment in Indiana history – an investment that will create thousands of jobs in Northwest Indiana and provide world-class access to Chicago, the ninth-largest economy on the planet,” RDA CEO Bill Hanna said.

Most importantly, being placed in project development means that the roughly $600 million West Lake Corridor project is now eligible for 50% federal matching funds. A final determination on that federal match awaits completion of an environmental impact study. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) and the FTA are preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project and expect to have the document ready for public review and comment later this year.

NICTD’s goal is to seek a project rating from the FTA for West Lake in late 2017. If successful, the rating would lead to a funding recommendation in the President’s 2019 budget. Once approved by Congress, construction could begin in 2019/2020, with the start of service in 2022.


As West Lake moves toward reality, the RDA and its partner communities will be hosting a series of public meetings later this month in Hammond, Munster and Dyer to exchange information about transit-oriented development and gather feedback from residents. These interactive sessions will be facilitated by Farr Associates, a national planning and architecture firm based in Chicago. These meetings will be held on:

  • Tuesday October 25th from 6-8 p.m. at Centennial Park Club House in Munster
  • Thursday October 27th from 6-8 p.m. at the Kenwood School in Hammond
  • Tuesday November 1st from 6-8 p.m. at the Plum Creek Center in Dyer.

These meetings are designed to give us information about what you, the residents, want to see, so we encourage everyone interested in what new development in their community should look like to come out and be a part of the process. Look for more information on the new West Lake TOD Web site here.

RDA Sets Vision for Northwest Indiana in Updated Strategic Plan

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) Board of Directors were presented Thursday with the executive summary to the update of the RDA’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan. This update was required by the General Assembly as part of the process to access state funding for the West Lake expansion of the South Shore commuter rail line.

The executive summary can be downloaded here.

“When the Indiana General Assembly approved $180 million for the West Lake Corridor last year, they asked that we update out plan to reflect this major new initiative,” explained Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the RDA. “This update lays out a road map for rail expansion and transit-oriented planning and development that will make Northwest Indiana the first choice in suburban Chicago for new and existing residents, the first choice for businesses to start or expand, and the first choice for access to jobs, both in the region and in Chicago.

“With diverse opportunities in all areas, we will be the leading area for economic growth in Indiana. We will be the best example in the nation for balancing growth with preservation, exciting and trendy urban and lake front communities with tranquil rural areas. Northwest Indiana will be the example of what Hoosiers can be when given global opportunity,” he added.

Contined with Part 2 of the video below the fold.
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RDA Helps Forge Another Link to the Lakeshore

IMG_0859The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority joined with our many partners in Porter County as well as Congressman Pete Visclosky to celebrate the dedication of the Dunes Kankakee Trail from the Porter County visitor’s center to the beach. The four-mile trail now joins more than 140 miles of other hiking and biking trails throughout Northwest Indiana, virtually all of which have been constructed since 1990.

Visclosky told the crowd it was their tax dollars that helped fuel the development of the trail.

“The money we pay is being invested in the future generations of Northwest Indiana,” he said.

The trail development would not be where it is today, Visclosky said, without the help of the RDA. RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said the RDA has been able to leverage $850 million since its inception and approximately 75 percent has been for projects related to the lakeshore.

The beautification of the lakeshore is important, Hanna said, because it has not only made it attractive but manifested a “quality of place.” “It’s about feeling good about where you live,” he said.

Taking advantage of the new trail, a new family business has opened up at the visitor’s center to rent bikes Thursdays through Mondays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Check it all out the next time you feel like a beach day!

RDA Focuses on Transit Oriented Development

IMG_1387Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority President and CEO Bill Hanna recently had the opportunity to update stakeholders in Chicago and Indiana on the RDA’s vision for commuter transit and transit oriented development (TOD) in the region. The Alliance for Regional Development, a tri-state organization focused on Northwest Indiana, Southeast Wisconsin and Chicago/Northeast Illinois, held an event two weeks ago focused on commuter and freight rail.

Hanna also had the opportunity to speak to members of the latest class of Leadership Northwest Indiana during their briefing on economic development in the region last week.

In both cases, Hanna stressed the benefits of improved connectivity to Chicago, including higher property values, expanded job opportunities, and making the region more attractive to both businesses and residents. The RDA’s vision includes not only the expansion of the South Shore commuter rail system via the West Lake Corridor to Munster and Dyer, but also contemplates significant investments in the existing line. Fully double tracking the South Shore from Gary to Michigan City and modernizing stations in locations like Miller will improve service and bring in new development, Hanna said.

Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash 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.

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 region.”

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.