“In 100 years when people live, work, play and enjoy these amenities, they
won’t remember our names but will be happy the effort was undertaken,” said
Mark Lopez, representing U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky.
Lopez joined other local, state and regional dignitaries Thursday to break
ceremonial ground for the $30 million Gateway to the Dunes project that will
create an upgraded Indiana 49 corridor from Interstate 94 north into the
Indiana Dunes State Park.
Initially three new bridges displaying stylized architectural elements,
including a 10 foot-wide Dunes Kankakee Trail hike/bike path separated by a
barrier wall, will be built along Indiana 49, the first bridge at U.S. 20
slated for an August start and May, 2011 completion.
“A project of this magnitude must have a starting point, and today is it,”
declared Lorelei Weimer, executive director of the Porter County Convention,
Recreation and Visitor Commission, at whose Indiana 49 visitor center the
groundbreaking took place.
Lead agency for the Gateway project is the Town of Porter.
Bruce Snyder, president of its Redevelopment Commission, said it’s an
exciting time in the town’s history and the beginning of a new era of
recreation, tourism, economic development and job creation not only for
Porter but also its neighboring communities and the region.
Porter Town Council president Michele Bollinger said three years ago her
council took office and pledged to move the town in a new direction.
“We had no clue how, when, where we’d accomplish it,” she told the
approximately 60 assembled dignitaries and guests. But with Porter being
“America’s front porch” to the Indiana Dunes, Bollinger said that was the
logical place to begin.
The town hired consultant SEH Inc. to consolidate a vision, then formed
strong relationships with Porter County, the State Park, PCCRVC, the
Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and the Northwest Indiana
Regional Development Authority, the latter giving Porter $1.8 million for
Phase 1 of the Gateway project. A request for $17.2 million more is pending.
RDA executive director Bill Hanna saluted the diligence and dedication of
the people working to implement Visclosky’s Marquette Plan that would
leverage the region’s biggest collective asset --- Lake Michigan --- to
build a better future for its children.
Visclosky secured a $500,000 grant for the Gateway project, which seeks to
capitalize on the 3 million annual combined visitors to the state park and
the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore here.
Hanna noted to say the Gateway would not be possible without the RDA is an
understatement in that its $1.8 million commitment was made despite the fact
Porter County is trying to withdraw from the bi-county agency.
Lopez said the Gateway is about jobs: from engineering/design through
construction creating places for tourists to eat, sleep and visit, prompting
some of them to move here and more businesses to locate here to serve them.
Weimer said the Indiana Department of Transportation is a key partner on the
Gateway project because it agreed to provide room for the future Dunes
Kankakee Trail on its new bridges even though trail funding and routing have
yet to be finalized.
The trail would extend the length of Porter County and end at the Kankakee
River as a strong quality-of life-enhancement and economic engine along its
route, continued Weimer. “If we can just find another $20 million, we’ll
have this project completed in no time.”
SEH consultant A.J. Monroe said the trail would begin at the State Park
entrance at the Indiana 49/U.S. 12 bridge and continue four miles through
the Town of Porter where a route is being studied, likely ending at the
town’s planned Orchard Pedestrian Way hike/bike trail at Woodlawn Avenue and
There it crosses into the Town of Chesterton’s jurisdiction. Town Council
member Emerson DeLaney, who attended the groundbreaking with fellow
Councilman Jim Ton and town attorney Chuck Lukmann, said Chesterton’s route
also is undecided.
Ton said while there’s been some push-back to routing the Dunes Kankakee
Trail through Chesterton’s downtown, “It’s obviously in our best interest to
get (trail users) downtown.”
Both councilmen said when a route is set and a cost estimate in hand, grant
money for engineering/construction would be sought.
Monroe said the trail is an example of how tourists could be encouraged to
move through the communities and enjoy their amenities without having to get
in a car; an alternative transportation study is part of the Gateway plans.
So is future reconstruction by INDOT of Indiana 49, now a non-descript,
four-lane highway with no visual interest, from Interstate 94 north to the
State Park entrance so tourists know something exciting’s ahead.
Speaking at the groundbreaking, INDOT district deputy commissioner Mike
McPhillips pledged his agency will work in a cooperative way with the
Gateway working group and be a good partner.
to create jobs
A key element of the overall project is the Porter Town Council’s stated
goal: economic development. The Indiana 49 work scope is expanded for
planning purposes onto adjacent U.S. 20.
Matt Reardon of SEH confirmed after Thursday’s ceremony there’s been
interest from developers, however, “I think the development community is
taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
A final Gateway plan first has to be put into the marketplace so developers
know what Porter’s selling; where hotels and other recreational
opportunities are desired first need to be determined before private
investment is part of the experience that follows.
“It’s like catching a tiger by the tail; there’s a lot going on,” explained
Asked about the shuttered Splash Down Dunes water park that sits idle west
of Indiana 49 at U.S. 20 and Waverly Road, Reardon said the site is a
superior location although it might take a little more diligence on a
private investor’s part to use it, yet the general area is as close to the
dunes as commercial development can get.
Monroe said the Gateway planners are keeping in mind that the Indiana
49/U.S. 20 corridors support a working economy and should maintain a level
of service to sustain it. However, the character of the roadways can be made
more attractive to expand and enhance visitation.
Snyder hinted additional announcements could be forthcoming. “Stay tuned.
There’s more to come.”
The groundbreaking opened with an invocation by Pastor Jeff Voegtlin of
Fairhaven Baptist Church. He thanked God for the beauty of the area and the
opportunity to put it on display for visitors, and he asked blessings on the
people who work on the Gateway projects.