Wake-Up Call: Whiting Lakefront, Illiana, Gary Airport and Porter County Jobs Cabinet

Work continued in August at Whiting Lakefront Park.

+ Work on the new Whiting Lakefront Park continued in August. Workers laid the footing for the Promenade, poured concrete for bike paths and viewing areas, built rain gardens to control storm water runoff, dredged the harbor and more. Photos of the ongoing activity can be seen here.

+ Yesterday, a report emerged that completion of the rail relocation and runway expansion project at the Gary/Chicago International Airport may be delayed until 2015. During the subsequent Airport Authority board meeting, aviation industry consultant John Clark, whose remarks led to that report, said his comments had been taken out of context.

Clark said that while he told the NIRPC board that the runway expansion could be finished as late as 2015, the plan was never to take that long.

“There’s so much focus on us missing the deadline, but the actual deadline in the paperwork is 2015,” Clark said during the Airport Authority meeting Monday morning. “I never made the statement that the project will be delayed.”

Rather, Clark, the airport and the FAA worked on a fast-track timeline to get the project completed by December 2013. Now that the project has run into the major contamination issues it has at the superfund site, as well as the railroads still not having signed all of the licensing agreements they need to sigh yet, the deadline being pushed back to September 2014, which still falls well in line with the FAA’s deadline.

At the meeting, the board also approved a $2.7 million contract to dispose of that contaminated soil at a Newton County site. While cleaning up the unexpected contamination will take extra time, it is not expected to increase the overall $166 million cost of the project.

+ The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Chicago area equivalent of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC), is taking comments on an amendment to its 2040 plan that would add the Illiana expressway. The Illiana cannot be built without approval from both CMAP and NIRPC. Comments are being accepted through September 3, 2013.

+ In his column today, Northwest Indiana Times editorial page editor Doug Ross urges Porter County to take the Jobs Cabinet report, delivered in December of last year, off the shelf and examine its recommendations.

The report recommends tapping a portion of the county’s nest egg for “two to three large, extraordinary major capital projects, public or private, to provide game-changing impacts to the county.”

Porter County is sitting on $159 million in principal and $11.6 million in interest from the 2007 sale of Porter Hospital.

The jobs Cabinet’s recommendations also include lending up to half of that money to towns, cities and school districts to provide low-cost funding for capital improvements.

A copy of the Job Cabinet report can be downloaded here (pdf).

Wake-Up Call: Park Signs, Commuter Buses and Trains

In order to help visitors find attractions at the National Lakeshore like the Lakefront Park & Riverwalk in Portage, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is introducing a new branding campaign and signage program.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is renewing its effort to market its brand, Superintendent Costa Dillon said Thursday at the Indiana Dunes Tourism Visitor Center.

“We think we have an exciting new opportunity for making the park more visible, alerting the public more clearly what the park is comprised of, and allowing our partners to generate some income off of this opportunity,” said Dillon.

“This is a confusing park and it has a lot of pieces all over the place with confusing names,” said Dillon noting that the national lakeshore comprises 30 miles in three counties and 14 cities and towns.

Dillon said people will not support the park if they do not understand what it is, and worse, safety issues may arise if people do not know where to send emergency help.

“You see highway signs for state park, state park, state park. Good luck finding the National Lakeshore. But we are working with INDOT and improving highway directional signs for the first time in the history of the park,” he said.

The campaign will feature 29 designs when completed. The Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk pictured above is one of the RDA’s first shoreline projects. We provided more than $10 million to restore the property, which was formerly a contaminated brownfield site. Today, it is one of the most-visited parts of the National Lakeshore.

In other news around the region, Valparaiso’s ChicaGo Dash service, established with the help of $1.8 million from the RDA, continues to motor along. And speaking to the city’s chamber yesterday, U.S. Representative Pete Visclosky predicted that South Shore commuter trains would one day be another option to get from Valpo to downtown Chicago. The RDA is currently partnering with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which operates the South Shore, on a strategic business plan to expand commuter rail in the region.

Thorgren Basin Makeover Shines

The $500,000 project to expand and restore Thorgren Basin in Valparaiso shone after heavy rains late last week. It is seen here Saturday afternoon teeming with waterfowl, including if you look closely a heron perched on the rock just to the left of center in the photo. More pictures below the fold.
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