As part of the two-day Strong Cities, Strong Communities event held earlier this week at the Genesis Center in Gary, URS, the consulting firm that created the joint NICTD/RDA 20-Year Strategic Business Plan for the South Shore commuter rail system,excerpted part of the plan’s section on Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) for attendees. That excerpt is now available as a pdf here.
The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) continued to focus on jobs and connectivity to Chicago by agreeing to consider funding a transit center in Valparaiso and approving three contracts with private firms that will create more than 400 jobs in Munster, Merrillville and Portage.
“All our initiatives are interrelated,” said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “Whether it’s providing access to Chicago, bringing new companies to Northwest Indiana or building out our infrastructure to accommodate future growth, the goal is to grow the pool of high-paying jobs available to Northwest Indiana residents.”
The Valparaiso transit center builds off of one such success, the ChicaGo Dash commuter bus service, which the RDA helped the city to launch in 2009.
A new transit center is needed, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said, because the current facilities are at capacity. When the city created the V-Line and Dash systems, “we took a lot of criticism,” Costas explained. “But we knew if we worked hard and planned well we could be innovative. It’s worked better than we ever imagined and it’s becoming a challenge to keep up.”
The proposed transit center would be built on property currently owned by Von Tobel Lumber & Hardware adjacent to the CSX railroad tracks. Though it would initially focus on buses, this location would also be ideal for commuter trains that may eventually come to the city. “This would be the first true transit-oriented development in the area, and a model for TOD in the region for years to come,” Costas said.
The first phase of development would include the transit center, parking lots, street improvements and stormwater management work. Ultimately, the plan envisions creation of retail and residential space between the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail tracks, as well as connections to Route 30 and to the unincorporated areas south of Route 30. Based on development patterns seen in Valparaiso as the city has invested in downtown improvements over the last several years, the project could create up to 1,000 local jobs.
The Board accepted the plan for funding consideration and instructed RDA staff to work with the City of Valparaiso to refine the scope of the project and generate a final funding proposal.