The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) announced today that it received approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation to enter Project Development for its long anticipated project to double track the South Shore Line from Tennessee Street in Gary, Indiana, to the Michigan Blvd. in Michigan City, Indiana, a distance of approximately 25 miles.
The estimated $210 million project is expected to add 5,000 - 8,000 daily riders to the South Shore Line, increase train frequency by 30%, and improve on-time performance. In addition, double tracking the South Shore Line will allow the railroad to significantly reduce travel times along the line especially at station locations farther away from Chicago.
In March of this year, the NICTD Board of Trustees approved a $4M contract for HDR Engineering to lead the preliminary engineering and environmental studies necessary to request a federal rating of the double tracking project next year. The approval to enter Project Development by the FTA represents their validation of the importance of the project, and also puts the project into the federal pipeline for a 50% matching grant under their Capital Investment Grant program. The Northwest Indiana RDA has committed $1.6M, and Northern Indiana RDA has pledged $800,000 towards the HDR contract.
It is NICTD’s goal to seek a project rating by the FTA in late 2017, which if successful, would lead to a funding recommendation in the President’s 2018 budget. Once approved by Congress, the project is anticipated to commence construction in 2019, with completion in late 2020.
According to NICTD’s General Manager, Michael Noland, the double tracking project “leverages upon years of intelligent, targeted and sustained reinvestment in the infrastructure of the South Shore Line. People always ask me, when can we reduce the travel time to Chicago from South Bend to 90 minutes, or 60 minutes from Michigan City? I tell them double track the railroad, and we can make that happen.” Noland stated that “double tracking the railroad unlocks the incredible potential of this region.”
Bill Hanna, President of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority stated that, in his opinion, “once the federal government approves the project, tens of millions of dollars of investment will pour into the region for transit oriented development opportunities along the rail line in Hammond, Miller/Lake Street, Michigan City, Gary, East Chicago, Chesterton, and Portage.” Hanna emphasized “this type of investment is only the tip of the iceberg of the economic development that is associated with the completion of this project.” The return on investment for the State of Indiana is huge, according to Hanna. “It’s probably a minimum of 4 to 5 times the State investment that’s required, and a key element, in tandem with the West Lake extension, in attracting and retaining population to this region.”
The next step in this process, in addition to completing the preliminary engineering and environmental studies, is locking up the all important local/state share of $105 million to qualify for federal funding.