Momentum, Support Build for South Shore Rail Expansion

Bill Hanna sat down with Inside Indiana Business to talk about federal funding for the South Shore. Watch the clip here.

Backed by strong economic growth projections provided by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, top Indiana officials are urging federal support for the West Lake extension and South Shore Double Tracking Projects. Last week, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb made it a point to discuss the project with Vice President Mike Pence during, while Senator Todd Young made the case directly to President Donald Trump during a visit to Indiana.

“We could not be more encouraged by the level of support we are receiving as we work to transform the economy of Northwest Indiana,” said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “For a long time, leaders from our region have said that Northwest Indiana doesn’t get the attention it deserves from Indianapolis. Whether you believe that’s true or not, it certainly isn’t the case here. Local, state and federal officials, Democrats and Republicans, have come together to back commuter rail expansion because of the immense difference it will make to Hoosiers here and state-wide.”

As the Times of Northwest Indiana notes, completing the nine-mile West Lake extension from Hammond to Dyer in Lake County, and fully double tracking the existing line from Gary to Michigan City “is an all-access ticket to job creation, economic development and connectivity between Region folks and the economic engine that is the city of Chicago.” Just in Lake and Porter counties, both projects combined will spur more than $2 billion in private development around the stations, attract an estimated 11,000 new residents and create about 6,000 new permanent Indiana jobs. For complete details, download the RDA’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan.

That focus on private investment was praised by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao after she was briefed on the project during a visit to South Bend in August. “That is an application that is in progress and I will not talk more about it,” she told reporters after the meeting. “But suffice it to say, the bipartisan nature and the public-private partnership aspects of any project would be ones that are important to us. Once again, Indiana appears to be leading the way.”

Like D.C.,Chicago is also taking notice of the effort to strengthen and expand the region’s connectivity to the nation’s third-largest economy. The Chicago Tribune just featured the projects, and WGN radio in Chicago recently had Bill Hanna on to extol the region’s virtues (listen here).

The RDA continues to work closely with Indiana’s Senators and Members of Congress on securing federal matching funds for West Lake and Double Tracking. “This is a critical time for the projects,” Hanna notes. “We are committed to making them happen, both for the tremendous economic benefits, and for brighter future for our children and grandchildren they represent.”

RDA Readies Federal Funding Bid

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority today approved a resolution formalizing the RDA’s financial commitments to West Lake and Double Tracking bond issues. The Board also formally accepted reports from KPMG and Farr Associates which, along with the resolution, will be submitted to the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) tomorrow by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD).

These items are part of the package NICTD is submitting to FTA for a project rating, the first step in securing federal matching funds for West Lake and Double Tracking. This submission will come just over a week after local and state officials, including Governor Eric Holcomb, met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who praised these projects for their bipartisan nature and focus on private investment.

“For Indiana, the Crossroads of America is more than a motto—it’s a mission. Today’s actions by the RDA Board propel the northern and northwest regions of our state to capitalize on location by working to improve access to one of the nation’s largest economies, neighboring Chicago,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Connecting Indiana through double tracking the South Shore line will help take our economy to the next level by building a brighter future for Hoosiers.”

Wednesday’s resolution reinforces the RDA’s financial leadership position in funding West Lake and Double Tracking. It allows the RDA to borrow up to $750 million to cover the construction costs and debt service on the two projects. “I commend RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna and the RDA Board of Directors for demonstrating their commitment to the future of Northwest Indiana by making this tangible financial commitment to the South Shore Rail Line,” said Congressman Peter Visclosky, long-time champion of South Shore expansion and recapitalization. “The RDA’s collaborative work with NICTD and our other state, local, and community partners will have innumerable positive benefits for all current residents and generations to come.”

Projects like West Lake and Double Tracking are exactly the kind of transformative regional projects that Indiana legislators had in mind for the agency when it was created 12 years ago, said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “West Lake and Double Tracking represent the largest investment in commuter rail ever made in Indiana,” he noted. “Together, they are projected to double South Shore ridership; attract an estimated 11,000 new residents to Lake and Porter counties; create more than 6,000 new jobs in Indiana; and catalyze more than $2 billion in private investment in Lake, Porter, La Porte and St. Joseph counties over the next 20 years.”

For more details on West Lake and Double Tracking, download the RDA’s updated strategic plan at in.gov/rda. The resolution, reports and presentations from today’s board meeting can be found at here, and will be added to our in.gov/rda page shortly.

Federal Officials Get a Look at South Shore Commuter Rail Expansion Plans

(l. to r.) NICTD President/General Manager Mike Noland, Indiana Senator Todd Young, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was in South Bend Tuesday to celebrate the completion of a project on the Indiana Toll Road and to get a look at plans for the upgrade and expansion of the South Shore commuter railroad.

After two hours of listening behind closed doors to local leaders’ pitch for federal money to double-track the South Shore Line, the nation’s top transportation official declined to talk specifically about the project publicly Tuesday.

“That is an application that is in progress and I will not talk more about it,” U.S. Transporation Secretary Elaine Chao told reporters after emerging from the meeting at the South Bend International Airport. “But suffice it to say, the bipartisan nature and the public-private partnership aspects of any project would be ones that are important to us. Once again, Indiana appears to be leading the way.”

Standing behind her at the podium were Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Jimtown and Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.

Chao said her decision to bring several high-level staff members with her on the visit indicates its importance

Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority President and CEO Bill Hanna had the opportunity to brief Secretary Chao on the project, along with NICTD President and General Manager Mike Noland (Bill’s presentation can be found here). The RDA would like to thank Secretary Chao for her time; and Gov. Eric Holcomb, Senator Todd Young and Congressman Pete Visclosky for the opportunity to brief the Secretary.

Together, the West Lake Corridor project in Lake County and the double tracking project across northern Indiana are projected to roughly double South Shore ridership; attract an estimated 11,000 new residents to Lake and Porter counties; create more than 6,000 new jobs in Indiana; and catalyze approximately $2 billion in private investment in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties over the next 20 years. For more details, download the RDA’s updated strategic plan.

RDA Receives Outstanding Transportation Plan Award for NWI Commuter Rail Vision

RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna and COO Sherri Ziller.

The Indiana chapter of the American Planning Association recently selected the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority’s comprehensive strategic plan update as its 2017 Outstanding Transportation Plan Award winner.

The updated focused on commuter rail expansion in Northwest Indiana and outlined plans for transit oriented development over the next two decades.

“It was a very thorough plan that did a good job of showing future investment,” said Lisa Dunaway, Instructor of Urban Planning at Ball State University and chair of this year’s awards committee. “It is a holistic plan that includes short and long-term implementation steps. We felt it could be a very good model to be replicated by other groups.”

“We are honored to be recognized by the Indiana chapter of the American Planning Association,” says RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “This award reflects the commitment of our staff and our partners at American Structurepoint and Policy Analytics to bringing transformational change to Northwest Indiana. Commuter rail expansion will bring thousands of new jobs and billions in private investment to the region, and this plan will ensure that we maximize those investments to make Northwest Indiana the leading area for economic growth in the state.”

Rail expansion in Northwest Indiana is projected to attract an estimated 11,000 new residents and about $1.9 billion in private investment over the next 20 years. For more details, download the RDA’s updated plan here

RDA Accelerates South Shore Double Tracking with New Funding Commitment

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority today approved an ongoing commitment of up to $3 million annually for the next 30 years to help fund the South Shore double tracking project. This commitment stands as Lake and Porter counties’ portion of the project cost, which are being shared by local governments in the four northern Indiana counties that the South Shore serves: Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph.

RDA funding comes in the wake of recent rail funding commitments across northern Indiana, including ones from Michigan City and LaPorte County. “Having local funding in place for South Shore double tracking puts us at a significant advantage over other parts of the country that are also seeking federal matching funds for their transportation projects,” says Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the RDA. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore, plans to begin construction on the approximately $290 million project by 2019 and have trains operating on the new rail by 2020.

Fully double tracking the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City, combined with other improvements including high level boarding platforms and track realignments in South Bend and Michigan City, will dramatically lower travel times and improve service to and from Millennium Station in Chicago, as shown in the accompanying table.

Together, the West Lake Corridor project in Lake County and the double tracking project across northern Indiana are projected to roughly double South Shore ridership; attract an estimated 11,000 new residents to Lake and Porter counties; create more than 6,000 new jobs in Indiana; and catalyze approximately $2 billion in private investment in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties over the next 20 years. For more details, download the RDA’s updated strategic plan.

Times and Dates for 3rd Set of West Lake TOD Public Meetings Announced

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) invites residents and interested persons to the final two West Lake TOD Project Open Houses. The Open House for Munster and Dyer will take place on Tuesday, May 30th at 6:00 p.m. at Centennial Park in Munster. The Open House for Hammond will be held on Wednesday, June 1st starting at 6:00 p.m. at the Kenwood Elementary School in Hammond.

The meetings will be facilitated by Farr Associates, a nationally-renowned planning and architecture firm based in Chicago. The Open Houses will allow participants an opportunity to see the preferred concept plans for proposed transit-oriented development (TOD) surrounding the new train stations in Dyer, Munster and Hammond before they are finalized for the New Starts Grant Application.

The Open House will NOT include discussions surrounding the West Lake Extension, track alignment and design, or the results of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Community involvement is a significant factor in the outcome of the TOD station area designs. This workshop is not a typical “stand and deliver” presentation. Public participation is encouraged. Thank you and we hope to see you there!

For up-to-date information, please visit the project website at westlaketod.civicpage.com

Commuter Rail Projects Move Forward

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) today approved grant agreements with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) to advance commuter rail expansion in Northwest Indiana.

The Board unanimously approved a $20 million grant agreement with NICTD, operator of the South Shore commuter rail system, for costs associated with entering the project development phase of the West Lake Corridor expansion. The Board originally voted to provide the grant in August of 2016.

Also approved was an agreement with NICTD for a $1.6 million matching grant to help fund $4 million in preliminary engineering and environmental work for the South Shore double tracking project. This grant was awarded last April.

The West Lake Corridor and Double Tracking projects are projected to have a transformative effect on Northwest Indiana, attracting an estimated 11,000 new residents and about $1.9 billion in private investment over the next 20 years. For complete details, download the RDA’s updated Comprehensive Strategic Plan here.