Officials from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) got a tour of Northwest Indiana last Monday 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.