Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) President & CEO Bill Hanna and Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) CEO & General Manager Michael Noland recently met with Ideas In Motion Media (IIMM) CEO and Publisher Chris Mahlmann in the Great News Studio for a roundtable discussion on the proposed expansion on the South Shore Line, with an emphasis on its Double Track project.
The project has been discussed in previous videos with IIMM, but as the Double Track project is moving forward, both Hanna and Noland believed it was time to update IIMM, and Northwest Indiana, on the status of the project.
“It's exciting to see we’re getting closer,” Hanna began. “This is the most collaboration I can think of in the last 15 years, locally. Just look at the senators involved-- there's Congressman Visclosky, there’s bipartisan support from Indiana General Assembly members, mayors, town councils, county councils and commissions. There is just a general consensus about the value of the Double Tracking project. It’s just nice to know the message about the value of the South Shore train is getting out and it's great to know that people know it's not just about the asset itself, it's about redeveloping the communities.”
Michael Noland agreed with Hanna’s positive mindset on the project and also cited future developments that lie on the horizon for the project.
“It’s definitely exciting and it’s scary at the same time," Noland said. "We're going non-stop now to make sure all our partners are involved and their expectations are being met, but we’re also engaged with engineering and environmental needs that are necessary to bring these projects to the federal government by this fall. We want these projects to get rated so we can get them into that federal pipeline, and hopefully take advantage of an administration that wants to do infrastructure. We can’t wait to hand this off to the feds."
Noland also noted that along with the necessary organization, all the chips seem to be falling into place on their own.
“Everything is lining up perfectly and we need to take advantage of these upcoming opportunities. For example, there’s a five-year transportation bill on the fed’s side and we will get there just in time to take advantage of that money. “
Besides zeroing in on upcoming opportunities, both Noland and Hanna aim to change the shape of the Northwest Indiana economy with a project like the West Lake Corridor and the Double Track project.
“You have to have something that drives your economy beyond retail and so forth. You have to have the multiplier effect,” Hanna began. “That’s the thing that causes people to spend money in the restaurants and shops. You need the South Shore rider. They make 40% more per job than their counterparts do here in the region, and they bring that money back. These are the people eating breakfast next to you at the local diner, buying stuff at the sporting goods store, buying gas down the street, purchasing homes, automobiles, and everything else. So, this is for everybody. I think there’s a recognition with this. There's a lot of credit to be given to the South Shore as an asset itself.”
Noland cited other cities that have had exponential economic success thanks to expanded transportation programs.
“You go to Wheaton, Lombard, Lemont, or Orland Park, and you see communities that have focused on projects like this that they have brought into their downtowns. They’re highly thriving communities that have really seen their downtowns explode and, in turn, it benefits the whole community at large.”
“There’s a quality of the place component that goes along with the community investment in the train. You have to have both happening,” Hanna added. “What Mike is doing with his train is opening a gateway, and he’s doing it faster and better to the third largest economy in the country. Alongside that, the development is making this a great, diverse sense of place that has economic and housing opportunities. You’re also going to find people that want to be by that train, because of the vibe of the atmosphere. It’s connected to the heart of the Midwest. You’re going to hear conversations in the coffee shops you want to be around. There’s businesses in those areas people want to be around. Whether they work every day or telecommute two days a week, it’s going to be the place to be.”
An aspect of the Double Track project that has many, including Noland, excited is the shortened travel times to each stop.
“My mantra has always been, ‘It’s 90 minutes from South Bend to Chicago,’ and frankly we’re just about there. We'll have an hour and a half service to South Bend, just over 60 minutes from Michigan City, 50 minutes from Chesterton, [the Miller Beach community] is going to explode, just 39 minutes out of Miller, and down to 25 to 27 minutes from Hammond. We’re right on the doorstep of Chicago.”
Noland continued and elaborated on the changes at current stations that will ensure the 90-minute ride from South Bend to Chicago, offers more than just quicker commute times.
"The Double Tracking project puts a new station at 11th Street in Michigan City. The Michigan City Council just gave us a historic agreement to add a second track there. We’ll have a new service with much quicker travel times through Michigan City. We’re also going to have high-level platforms at Ogden Dunes and Miller, which means that we 're not only opening more for service, but it makes it much easier for people with disabilities. We can allow bikes on trains in those areas too. The Gateway Station is a huge asset for us, which connects the South Shore to West Lake. South Bend is looking to put us on the west side of the airport which saves 10 - 12 minutes of travel time right there, and that’s what gets them to 90 minutes when we do Double Tracking.”
For more information on the Double Track project, click here!
Listen to the full interview as a podcast below and check out the highlight video below as well!