Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

NICTD board neutral on transit referendum

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District directors approved guidelines for future transit-oriented development, but they took no position Friday on a Nov. 3 transit referendum that could change how the South Shore’s governing board operates.

The referendum is mandated by state law to take place simultaneously in the NICTD counties of St. Joseph, LaPorte, Porter and Lake although only Porter and likely St. Joseph have indicated they will conduct the vote.

At issue is whether a Northern Indiana Regional Transportation District should be created to provide regional bus and rail transportation. If the RTD is approved, NICTD becomes the commuter rail division of the new district that would be governed by a 10-member regional board.

After Friday’s meeting NICTD chairman Mark Catanzarite, a member of the St. Joseph County Council, said although there’s widespread concern among the NICTD board, “Each county has a different opinion whether this board should be involved in taking a position.”

Catanzarite also said NICTD would be changed dramatically if the referendum passes. The next NICTD board meeting is Nov. 20; Catanzarite said he doesn’t anticipate NICTD taking a position on the RTD before the Nov. 3 vote.

Porter County Council and NICTD board member Sylvia Graham said the RTD is a very controversial issue and even though the NICTD board chose not to take a position, she would have been willing at least to discuss it.

The RTD would have the ability to levy an income tax of up to 0.25 percent on residents of the counties included in the district to provide transportation services to them. The referendum ballot does not refer to the tax, and the regional rail system named specifically does not limit it to commuter rail.

“If you vote for the RTD, you’re putting another tax on yourself,” said Graham.

She urged Porter County voters to cast their ballots Nov. 3. “Porter County is taking this as a serious election. All polling places will be open and voters can get an absentee ballot. I encourage everyone to get out and vote, whether you’re for (a RTD) or against it. You’ve got to exert your right to vote.”

Meanwhile, the NICTD board split 5-3 Friday to approve a revised transit-oriented development policy after a more specific TOD resolution was tabled in July when questions arose.

The new two-page resolution adopts financial and development criteria to guide NICTD management in the implementation of TOD within the South Shore service area to enhance its stations and the passengers’ commuting experience. Such projects may include better parking options, retail services and office/residential development in partnership with private developers, public entities and local communities.

In July, general manager Gerald Hanas said NICTD would be willing to discuss TOD opportunities with the Town of Porter, which plans to develop an iconic gateway to the Indiana Dunes near U.S. 20 and Indiana 49 including a possible hotel to serve the state and national parks.

NICTD also had been approached about a possible partnership with developers hoping to replace the Gary Metro Center commuter station with a station complex near Interstate 65 and U.S. 20.

Consultant William Sheldrake of Policy Analytics said a TOD policy is part of the long-range strategic planning for many transit systems.

NICTD’s TOD resolution stipulates “it is imperative that the private capital interests share the risk as well as the rewards with the public-sector entities” involved in such joint development partnerships.

NICTD also desires to reduce its non-trackside management related to any new station development, however, the commuter district is willing to request grants to provide public capital for public/private TOD projects.

Porter County Commissioner John Evans was among those voting for the TOD policy Friday; Graham, LaPorte County Councilman Mark Yagelski and Governor’s appointee Richard Vulpitta all voted no.

Michigan City and NICTD are discussing moving over the existing downtown South Shore tracks there and building a new passenger station. Said Yagelski, “We don’t need this to develop Michigan City. Michigan City will happen without this resolution in place.”

Lake County Council member Christine Cid asked if the TOD resolution authorizes eminent domain for NICTD to acquire land. Hanas said the agency has eminent domain power now regardless of the TOD resolution.

 

 

Posted 9/28/2009

 

 

 

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