Chesterton Tribune

15th Street RR crossing eyed for grade separation

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The Northwest Indiana Rail Vision Working Group has included the 15th Street railroad crossing in Chesterton between Broadway and Woodlawn on its list of crossings targeted for grade separation.

At the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Policy Committee meeting on Tuesday, planner Tom Vander Woude of the NWI Rail Vision Working Group displayed the group’s priorities for 14 crossing areas deemed to be problematic, most of which are in Lake County. The agency cites the 15th Street as a priority since it converges the Norfolk South rail, the CSX rail and the Amtrak rail at the Porter Junction.

The item is asterisked, however, indicating that there may be more appropriate alternatives to grade separation given the crossing is in a congested area due to the number of freight trains moving through.

“It’s the second busiest crossing in Indiana,” said Vander Woude.

Agencies are working to make lines smoother throughout Northwest Indiana and Chicago with projects such as the CREATE program, as the amount of transported freight is expected to double in the next 30 years.

Chesterton Town Council member Jim Ton, who sits on the NIRPC executive board, said the multiple crossings lie on a major school bus route and are used by the town’s emergency response vehicles. He was relieved to see the rail vision group putting plans together to make the crossing more manageable.

“It’s a problem that has been going on. It’s easy to find the problem but it is not easy to find a solution,” said Ton.

The tracks also lie close to the new Chesterton Municipal Building, Ton said.

Vander Woude said no definite timeline has been set on when crews would start the regrading or restructuring. Support would also need to come from local governments and its constituents.

The rail vision working group hopes to move ahead after the upcoming meeting on Jan. 18 at the NIRPC building.

The group originally started with a list of 60 crossing areas and with input from local government officials prioritized by measuring the amount of train traffic, automobile and truck traffic and hazard ratings from the Federal Railroad Administration. Other listed areas include the CSX crossing on Ind. 149 north of the Toll Road and Tower Road (CR 250W) near Valparaiso.

The amount of funding has not been set yet, but Van Woude said the area is a potential site for a high speed rail project through Northwest Indiana, also known as the Indiana Gateway Project, which has been awarded a $71.1 million grant. The money will not be used for grade separation but for putting up new sidings along the Porter Junction.

Work is almost set to go on another crossing where Indian Boundary Rd. and Calumet Rd. merge. Ton also said the Town of Chesterton received a $170,000 grant from NIRPC for engineering work at the crossing which he called “confusing” for approaching motorists and that the new plan will have an easier layout.

The project should begin in a matter of months once the contracts have been approved, Ton said.

Comprehensive Regional Plan

Details of NIRPC’s master plan for the next 30 years were made available to local officials by means of a summary book and computer disk.

NIRPC Senior Transportation Planner Bill Brown said the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan is the result of a three-year effort by NIRPC members who kicked off the process of assembling the plan in December 2008 and wrapped up last summer.

“It took a lot of time and a lot of work,” Brown said.

The CRP expands the role NIRPC plays in regional initiatives, broadening its focus to include not only transportation, but environmental protection, human and economic resources, growth, stewardship and governance.

The plan’s principles support urban reinvestment to “revitalize these core communities to achieve regional prosperity by 2040,” improving mobility for low-income residents, protecting air and water resources and enhancing public transit.

Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties are expected to see a 170,000 population increase by the year 2040 and the CRP aims to provide jobs for the additional residents. Framework strategies for urban areas call for more affordable housing by rehabilitating neighborhoods, developing “livable centers” where areas will have increased walkability and mixed uses.

Air quality must also be maintained to ensure the productivity of the people and businesses in the region, the plan says. NIRPC will extend more education to the public on clean air actions and call for continued emissions testing on vehicles. The agency also recognizes the more prevalent use of alternative fuels and wishes to see those become more readily available.

The CRP outlines a green infrastructure network to protect Northwest Indiana’s 315 natural and recreational areas and identify land suitable for developing as open space.

Ton said he is excited to use the CRP for further development of recreational trails like the Dunes-Kankakee Trail that follow the county line and possibly branch off in the downtown areas of Chesterton and Porter, attracting more people and businesses.



Posted 1/11/2012