The Board of the Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) took another step toward expanding commuter access to Chicago yesterday with a $1.6 million matching grant to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) to help fund $4 million in preliminary engineering and environmental work for the South Shore double tracking project.
"Expanding capacity on the existing South Shore line is critical to boosting the economy and creating new jobs here in Northwest Indiana," said Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the RDA. "Along with the West Lake Extension, double tracking will attract new residents, new businesses and new development to the region and put us on a sustainable, long-term path to growth."
The $1.6 million grant will help offset the cost of the project for NICTD while it seeks additional contributions from partners in the region, including funding from the Northern Indiana Regional Development Authority. This preliminary engineering and environmental analysis must be completed before NICTD can seek Core Capacity funding from the Department of Transportation for the double tracking project.
"The Northwest Indiana RDA's continuing commitment to invest in the South Shore Line and the West Lake Extension is greatly appreciated," said Mike Noland, CEO and General Manager of the South Shore Line/NICTD. "Our shared vision of the benefits that flow from sound investments in the railroad will pay dividends to our riders, the residents of our four-county service region and all the citizens of the great state of Indiana."
The double tracking project would add a second full track to the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City. Currently, the South Shore line is only double tracked from Chicago to Tennessee Street in Gary. After that, the South Shore has only a single track for both eastbound and westbound trains. As a result, trains must regularly slow or stop on passing sidings to allow a train travelling in the opposite direction to pass.
Double-tracking would greatly reduce commuting times to and from Chicago by allowing the South Shore to increase the number and speed of trains it runs each day. This will elevate the region above its suburban Illinois counterparts in the competition for Transit-Oriented Development, new businesses and new residents.
The Board also approved a $75,000 matching grant to the Legacy Foundation for its Neighborhood Spotlight initiative in Gary's Miller neighborhood.
"Over the past two years, the Legacy Foundation and its partners have worked with residents of Miller to identify key assets in their neighborhood and build consensus around a vision for their future," Hanna said. "Among those assets are the South Shore train station and Marquette Park, which are not only important to Miller but are also signature transportation and shoreline resources for the entire region. This grant will help Legacy and the residents of Miller maintain, improve and increase access to those properties for the benefit of all of Northwest Indiana."
"Legacy Foundation is grateful for the generous support provided by the Regional Development Authority," said Legacy Foundation President Carolyn Saxton. "Through the planning that has taken place with Neighborhood Spotlight's collective impact initiative, RDA funding will be directed to solving community problems, creating opportunities and taking action steps to enhance the lives of people who live, work or play in Gary's Miller neighborhood."
Neighborhood Spotlight provides a framework for capacity-building, planning and implementation block by block. It is modeled after successful community development work in Indianapolis and Chicago. Neighborhood Spotlight guides a cross-section of community members who work collaboratively and collectively on improving quality of life in their neighborhoods. A convening organization, usually a community-based organization, will spearhead the coordination of neighborhood relationships. Miller hired a community builder and formed The Miller Spotlight Steering Committee to help carry out their community quality of life study.
The Steering Committee conducted more than 200 one-on-one interviews with residents to see what they felt were their community's greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 4,013 comments were collected during the SWOT process. Over the course of the next steps in the Neighborhood Spotlight initiative a plan of action will be created from these findings.