Chesterton Tribune



West Lake South Shore spur will link to South Shore at Hegewisch; St John option deferred

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The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has known for some time what the West Lake Extension to the South Shore commuter line will look like, at least in the broadest terms.

A spur reaching south into Lake County not quite 20 miles, from Hammond to Dyer. It will run along a previously abandoned railroad line and include at least four stations: in Downtown Hammond, South Hammond, in Munster at 45h Ave. or Fisher Street, and in Dyer on Main Street.

How this spur will actually connect to the existing South Shore line, however, has been an open question.

Two different options have been considered:

¥A shorter link at 2.1 miles, the so-called Hegewisch alternative, beginning in Downtown Hammond and passing under the Hohman Ave. Bridge, then--elevated above grade to fly over the Indiana Harbor Belt (IHB) railroad line, the Grand Calumet River, the CSX line, and the Norfolk Southern line--in a generally northerly direction to the South Shore junction at the Burnham Yard at Hegewisch.

¥And a significantly longer link at 5.31 miles, the so-called IHB/Kensington Branch alternative, beginning in roughly the same place but using the IHB trackage and following its northwesterly run, until connecting to the existing South Shore line not far east of where it joins the Metra line.

Eventually NICTD’s Board of Directors was going to need to plump for one or the other. And--prompted by the Federal Transit Administration’s wanting a formal delineation of any wetlands along the connection route--the board made a decision at its meeting last week, voting unanimously to “narrow” the West Lake Extension’s focus to the Hegewisch alternative.

The board did something else as well: it voted to defer, for now, a six-mile continuation of the West Lake Extension south to St. John.

The board based both decisions on the recommendations of AECOM, the project’s contracted engineering consultant.

The Hegewisch alternative, as the shorter of the two connection routes by far, would cost less to build, operate, and maintain. The IHB alternative, on the other hand--besides the additional expenses associated with its greater length--would require the construction of more flyover than the Hegewisch will, require too an additional engineering solution to a field of high-tension wires along the route, and entail the negotiation of an agreement with the IHB line.

Meanwhile, AECOM’s assessment of a St. John continuation came down to this cost/benefit calculation: although it would likely increase ridership by 11 percent, at the same time it would increase capital costs by 33 percent, that is, add $200 million to the price tag.

Then, in a third vote, the board agreed to increase AECOM’s contract price by $205,695, to a total of $2,270,165, to cover a broadening of the firm’s project scope. Among other things, AECOM will undertake the FTA’s wetland delineation as well as a noise and vibration analysis; it will also perform some right-of-way work and be tasked with “public and community engagement.”

Grant Applications

In other business, General Manager Michael Noland reported that NICTD is applying for a TIGER grant (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) from the U.S. Department of Transportation, to fund the installation of the last 20 miles of new concatenary wire.

Five miles of the old, brittle wire have already been replaced and six more miles will be strung this summer, leaving the final 20 or so still in need of replacement, Noland said.

The TIGER grant would also fund the extension of the Birchim siding, 19 miles west of South Bend, by 4,500 feet.


Posted 6/4/2015




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