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 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 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 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.

2015: The Year in Review

?????It’s been a very busy year for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. As we head into the final week of 2015, here’s a look back at some RDA highlights from the past 12 months.

In what was probably the most important development, the RDA worked in concert with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), local civic and business leaders, and the Northwest Indiana delegation to the General Assembly to secure a $180 million state investment to expand South Shore commuter rail service in Lake County via the West Lake Corridor. In 2016 the RDA and NICTD will complete initial environmental and planning work, and make a formal request to the Federal Transit Administration to enter project development.

This past year also saw the RDA, the City of Gary, the region and the State all celebrate the completion of the runway expansion and railroad relocation project at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. We also provided part of the funding for a $13.5 million road realignment project near the Gary airport which will facilitate an expansion of Carmeuse Lime and development of an industrial park in the airport’s footprint.

Our efforts to improve the Lake Michigan shoreline focused on East Chicago in 2015. We saw the completion of the Unity Plaza project and the start of work on the Promenade at Jeorse Beach and on retail development in the North Harbor area. All of this was part of the first phase of the city’s Waterfront Revitalization Initiative. In 2015, the RDA Board of Directors approved a second grant of $12.9 million for phase II of the initiative.

The Board also approved a $6 million grant to the Town of Munster to support a $35 million street realignment project that will open the way for transit-oriented development in Munster once the West Lake Corridor is put through. Additionally, RDA also provided a $317,000 grant to the Porter County Regional Airport to act as matching funds to secure more than $12 million for runway and equipment improvements, and a $250,000 grant to assist in keeping dial-a-ride service going in North Township. That RDA grant provides a match to access $1.25 million in federal money.

2015 also saw the first use of the Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund, with the Board approving approximately $400,000 for remediation work at the site of the Ambassador Apartments in Gary. The year also marked two of the last uses of the RDA’s deal-closing fund, which provided financial support for the relocation of American Stair from Illinois to Hammond and Hoist Liftrucks from Illinois to East Chicago. Our authority for that program was terminated by the General Assembly during the 2015 session.

In 2016, the RDA will focus most strongly on transportation-related initiatives, including: the West Lake Corridor; upgrades to the existing South Shore line; and transit-oriented development planning. We would like to thank all those who have worked with us and supported us over the past year, and look forward to continuing our trusted, tested, results-oriented partnership in the year ahead.

Northwest Indiana Makes its Pitch for Regional Cities Investment

lakeshore2Officials from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) got a tour of Northwest Indiana yesterday in advance of the region’s application for Regional Cities funding. Northwest Indiana is competing with other cities and counties around the state for $84 million in Regional Cities grants that IEDC will distribute to winning communities. The goal of the Regional Cities program is to build healthy, vibrant communities that attract and retain talent in Indiana.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District are submitting a proposal for $42 million from the Regional Cities program that would support rail improvements, service upgrades and transit-oriented development (TOD) along the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City.

The heart of the proposal involves fully double-tracking the South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City. Currently, the South Shore line is double-tracked from Chicago to Tennessee Street in Gary. For 17.2 of the 25.9 miles from there to Michigan City, the South Shore is a single-track railroad. Constructing a continuous double track would increase scheduling flexibility, improve reliability, expand maintenance windows and eliminate the single point of failure that exists with single track operation.

Double-tracking would greatly reduce commuting times to and from Chicago and make cities and towns along the line much more attractive for transit-oriented development. Encouraging TOD around the South Shore line that compliments existing neighborhoods can enhance ridership, access to job markets and help the region in economic growth.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC), the Northwest Indiana Forum and One Region are among those supporting the application. Ty Warner, Executive Director of NIRPC and Heather Ennis, President and CEO of the Forum, were among those joining RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna, NICTD General Manager Mike Noland and NIPSCO Economic Development Director Don Babcock in guiding the IEDC delegation around Northwest Indiana.

Regional Cities representatives included Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith, IEDC President Jim Schellinger and Vice President for Policy and Strategic Initiatives Eric Shields. Also along for the day was Joel Gorelick, former Peoples Bank President and CAO, and a member of the committee which will choose the winning regions in the Regional Cities competition. You can see photos of the tour here.

We believe our inclusive, collaborative proposal will benefit four counties – Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph – with a combined population of more than 1 million by encouraging private investment in transit-oriented development, attracting new residents and businesses, creating new jobs in Indiana and offering increased access to high-paying careers in Chicago. Fully double-tracking the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City will reduce transit times to and from Chicago, enable the South Shore to offer increased service, and improve on-time performance and customer satisfaction. Quick, reliable and frequent access to the third-largest metro economy in the country will directly answer the Regional Cities challenge for plans that create jobs, encourage economic development and improve quality of place.

RDA Welcomes Chris Campbell to the Board of Directors

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) welcomes Christopher Campbell to its Board of Directors. Campbell, Senior Vice President at Centier Bank, will serve as Porter County’s representative to the RDA.

“I am honored to be selected by the Porter County Commissioners and County Council as their appointee to the RDA Board of Directors,” Campbell said. “I have a deep interest in the region and strongly believe that by coming together we can compete with anyplace else in the county.”

Campbell holds an MBA from Valparaiso University and sits on several other Boards in Northwest Indiana, including the Boards of the Valparaiso Parks Foundation, the Porter Starke Foundation, Valparaiso Events and the Valparaiso Economic Development Commission. Campbell is also Chairman of the Board of the E.F. Wildermuth Foundation, a national philanthropic organization based in Columbus, Ohio.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to welcome Christopher to the Board and to the RDA,” said Board Chairman Don Fesko. “I look forward to working with him as we continue to lay the foundation for growth and development in Northwest Indiana.”

Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the RDA, noted that Campbell brings valuable skills and insights to the RDA. “Christopher brings additional experience in the financial industry and investing, which is more important than ever now that the RDA is gearing up to tackle its largest investment ever, the $571 million West Lake Corridor,” Hanna said. “He is also well-versed in grants and economic development, both of which are staples of RDA activity.”

Porter County Commissioner Jeff Good, who served as the county’s representative to the RDA until his election as Commissioner last November, called Campbell “an ideal choice” for the position. “He is an outstanding businessman and member of the community, and I can’t think of anyone I would rather have take my seat,” he said. “Christopher will be a great asset to the RDA, Porter County and Northwest Indiana.”