An Indiana legislative study committee will be meeting this summer to
consider potentially major changes in the way the South Shore Railroad is
overseen, funded and expanded.
A concern raised Friday is that premature legislation could be filed early
next year before a separate 15-year strategic plan for the South Shore is
completed in May, 2014.
Gerald Hanas, general manager of the Northern Indiana Commuter
Transportation District which owns and operates the South Shore, told NICTD
directors that the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions won’t have available to it the
$550,000 strategic study’s final report.
Nevertheless, Hanas said NICTD will provide the committee with meaningful
input, and some committee meetings will take place in this area.
In March the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and NICTD
signed an agreement to develop a 15-year plan to upgrade railroad assets and
to promote economic development including possible South Shore expansions to
Valparaiso and Lowell.
The expansions have been discussed and studied for many years, but finding
construction dollars and guaranteed funding to operate the new line has been
a stumbling block.
After grumblings in Lake County that the Lowell route was taking too long,
last year State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, filed a bill to
change the composition of the NICTD board of trustees giving more weight to
Lake County representation; HEA 1450 later was amended to require the study
Local members on the 23-person committee are State Sen. James Arnold of
LaPorte County, State Sen. Earline Rogers of Lake County and State Rep. Ed
Soliday of Valparaiso. The South Shore also serves St. Joseph County.
Hanas said the strategic plan being developed by consultant URS will
consider how the South Shore delivers service and could interact with area
bus systems, as well as how the railroad integrates with the RDA’s regional
focus on job growth, transit-oriented development and quality of life.
Financial feasibility will be a key consideration when evaluating future
alternatives and options, Hanas added.
In two months the results of a recent South Shore ridership survey will be
released. NICTD director of marketing John Parsons said 4,507 people --- 87
percent of those receiving a survey --- returned it. “(We) ought to be able
to make some good statistical summations with a good deal of reliability.”
Results of the completed ridership survey will be posted online.
So far in 2013 on-time performance increased slightly through April but
total ridership with 1,137,160 passengers dropped 6 percent compared to
2012. An unseasonably cool spring and a drop in Chicago events and
employment is thought to have led to some of the decline.
In other business, Hanas said half the new $2.7 million, 800-foot long
high-boarding platform at Porter County’s Dune Park Station should be ready
for passenger use in late July; the western portion nearer the station
itself will be substantially completed in November.
Warming shelters, a revamped east entrance and interior traffic redesign are
included in the Dune Park project.
NICTD announced plans to file for a new round of federal TIGER grants
intended for shovel-ready capital infrastructure projects. Sought will be 75
percent of a $7.6 million replacement of substation components for the
electrically powered railroad, and potentially $18 million of the final
$23.8 million phase of an overhead catenary upgrade between Michigan City
and South Bend.
NICTD would provide the 25 percent local match on both projects.
The NICTD board also voted unanimously to release Ellas Construction Inc.
from its contract to replace the Trail Creek railroad bridge in Michigan
City, and to award a $1,282,344 contract to second-lowest bidder Tonn and
Blank of Michigan City. Environmental reviews caused delays and Hanas said
Ellas didn’t wish to proceed.
The meeting began with NICTD chairman Mark Yagelski of the LaPorte County
Council commending 22-year administrative employee Ruby Peterson for her
service, and wishing her well on her retirement. Hanas also expressed his