Chesterton Tribune

Midwest bridge opens; Land sale to Lakeshore told

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Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky were scheduled to be the guest speakers at an event this afternoon to officially open the new overpass into U.S. Steel’s Midwest plant, as well as to announce the acquisition of 60 additional acres in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Visclosky called the land acquisition an example of his Marquette Park project becoming a reality. As envisioned, the Marquette Project will open access to 75 percent of the Indiana lakefront, largely by converting into public use industrial property no longer needed.

The transaction between the National Park Service and U.S. Steel was finalized last week. The Park Service is purchasing the 60.63 acres of lakefront property, which is within the authorized boundaries of the National Lakeshore but which currently houses a sewage treatment plant serving the steel plant.

According to a press release about today’s event, Portage Mayor Doug Olson crafted a deal with the National Park Service and U.S. Steel to tear down the existing treatment plant and tie the steel mill into the city utilities in order to free up the land for public use.

The new $6.1 million overpass, known as the South Shore Industrial Safety Overpass (SSISO), replaces the at-grade intersection that was the site of a triple fatality in June, 1998, when a South Shore passenger service train collided with a truck hauling a steel coil.

As the truck crossed the South Shore tracks, the grade crossing signals for the adjacent Conrail track activated, and the gates lowered in front of the tractor. The driver stopped, causing his second trailer to stop on the westbound South Shore tracks. The ongoing South Shore train lifted the truck trailers, breaking the chain that secured the steel coil, which then rolled 35 feet into the train’s passenger compartment.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended permanent engineering changes at the crossing, or else the crossing would be closed.

Visclosky, Kernan, and Olson were among those who spearheaded the construction of the SSISO, as well as the acquisition of the U.S. Steel land. In 2000, Visclosky secured $4.75 million in federal funding for the overpass and Kernan, then as lieutenant governor, committed the additional $1.3 million in state funding. The SSISO opened in May, with additional local access roads to and from Ogden Dunes expected to be completed by this October.