More than 12 percent of Lake County residents commute to work in Illinois, mostly to Chicago, where higher wages and better opportunities await in the forest of glistening skyscrapers by the lake.
Recently released data from Stats Indiana, based on Indiana IT-40 returns for tax year 2015, found 35,752 Lake County residents go to neighboring Illinois for work. Better pay is a major draw: the average wage in the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights Metropolitan Division was $26.12 per hour last year, as compared to $20.54 in the Gary Metropolitan Division, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Highland resident Kimberly Kosmas has been commuting into Chicago for work since she started her career in 1983, taking the South Shore Line to her job as a project manager for a utility company.
"It was terribly difficult, but I learned to leave at 5:45 a.m. to make a train that would always run late," she said of riding the commuter train in the 1980s. "Back in those days, they were just retiring the old cars for the Japanese ones. They seemed to struggle then."
In 1997, she found a job in Hammond that was much closer but only paid a fraction of what she earned in the city.
"The commute was far less, but still didn't offset my loss of income," she said. "I took the opportunity to earn my bachelor's degree and left the company to earn $10K more in Chicago. I noticed the train was much better, including their on-time record."
Best of both worlds
Ashley Velchek, a business development associate for a nonprofit youth service agency, and her boyfriend, a building maintenance coordinator for a dental instrument manufacturing company, just bought a house in Dyer after living in Chicago for years.
"Generally speaking, splitting our time between Chicago and NWI is like having the best of both worlds," she said.
"Despite a much longer commute to the city, we chose to live in NWI for the affordability of a single-family home and lifestyle. I, personally, do not want to give up the city life completely, including friends, restaurants and culture."
They like their jobs, presume salaries are higher in the city and believe there are a larger array of job prospects there, Velchek said.
"I believe that my opinion may change once we start a family, and would prefer to be at home more rather than deal with the long commute," she said. "Also, once we have children, schools are ranked higher in NWI than in Chicago. I would recommend it for those who are ready to settle down a bit and for the 'better bang for your buck' argument."
Stats Indiana found most of Lake County's 293,762 workers either stay in Lake County or commute across the state line to Illinois. About 6,550 Lake County residents work in neighboring Porter County, while 946 schlep to LaPorte County and 360 endure a more-than-two-hour-each-way drive down to Indianapolis.
Lake County, the second most populous county in the state after Marion County, also remains by far the biggest employment hub in Northwest Indiana, according to Stats Indiana. It attracts 18,981 workers from Porter County, 15,358 from Illinois, 2,388 from Jasper County and 1,762 from LaPorte County. LaPorte County, in turn, sends 3,768 workers west to Porter County, 2,195 workers east to St. Joseph County and about 749 workers north to Michigan.
South Shore stations a selling point
Though Lake County remains the Region's employment center, it's also increasingly becoming a bedroom community, as young Chicagoans decamp to the suburbs and south suburban residents cross the state line, looking for somewhere that's still a reasonable commute into Chicago.
Flossmoor native Noah Amstadter, an editor at a book publisher, said when he took a job in Chicago in 2010, living in Illinois was not a consideration for him and his wife Jen, a Hobart native.
"The housing costs, limited square footage and parking costs associated with living in the city did not interest us," he said.
"And living in the suburbs on the Illinois side was not attractive, either — if you drive around Schererville you see a community that's growing, that new businesses are investing in. On the other side of the border where I grew up in Flossmoor, we saw a community fighting to survive, with foreclosures and taxes going up and businesses closing down."
While he liked the idea of walking to the Metra, he said it wasn't worth the risk of taking on a mortgage in an at-risk community.
"We focused our home search on west Lake County, specifically homes no more than a 20-minute drive from a South Shore station," he said. "Ultimately, we purchased a home in Schererville's Plum Creek subdivision."
He leaves the house at 7:15 a.m. every morning and typically walks into his office in Chicago's River North neighborhood at about 8:45 a.m.
"The train schedule is reliable. Other than extreme weather, the South Shore has proven reliable over the past six-plus years," Amstadter said. "I can get work done, listen to a podcast, read, or even sleep on the train. None of the stress of driving, on my car or on me. Since the South Shore added WiFi, it's been even better."
He appreciates not having to pay for parking at the train station, like Metra requires its riders to do. But he said he's been slowed down by freight trains and major construction projects, such as the replacement of the Nine Span Bridge on Indianapolis Boulevard. It's also currently not convenient for him to walk or bike to a South Shore Line station.
"Unlike suburban communities serviced by Metra, relatively few South Shore commuters walk to the station," he said. "I miss that option."
Porter County commutes, too
A fourth of Porter County's 113,348 workers leave the county for work, mainly to Lake County and Illinois. Nearly 5,000 Porter County residents commute to Illinois for work, while only about 1,000 Illinois residents work in Porter County. Some 3,768 LaPorte County residents work in Porter County, according to Stats Indiana.
Chesterton resident Lauren Rossi works downtown, just across the river from the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue.
"I work in radio, so the job market is extremely limited for me in Northwest Indiana," she said. "I am the sole provider for my family as my husband is a stay-at-home dad, so I need to work where I can make enough for us."
She bought a house close to a South Shore Line station so she could easily get into the city. Their family decided to move from California back to the Region after they had their daughter, so they would be close to the grandparents.
"When we were looking for a home to purchase, the three biggest factors were safety of the neighborhood, quality of schools and proximity to the South Shore Line. We decided on Chesterton because it fit all of those factors, and we were able to get a home for a very reasonable price with low property taxes," Rossi said.
"We stayed with his parents in Munster during our home search, and I took the South Shore out of East Chicago daily. Even with moving more than 20 miles further east, my total commute only changed by about 10 minutes."
Rossi said she enjoys taking the South Shore Line into the city, even if there are delays or breakdowns.
"My employer completely understands the hassles of the train and has no problem if I am late due to the train," she said. "I just need to make up my hours sometime during the week. In the evening, I get into a book or catch up on my television shows or movies on Netflix. It has become my time to decompress."
Commute is reasonable
Chad True and his wife, who moved from the northern suburbs to Chesterton in 2014, drive into the city together on the Indiana Toll Road, and he takes the train home because of their schedules. He works in insurance in the Loop and his wife works at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.
"We could have located anywhere on Interstate 294 and it would be an hour," he said. "We visit Michigan a lot, so we checked Chesterton out. The day care was affordable, and the commute isn't unreasonable."
True said he enjoys the affordability, low taxes, small-town feel and proximity to the Indiana Dunes State Park, so much that he's actively proselytizing for Northwest Indiana.
"One of the new executives at work came up from Atlanta, and I've interested him in looking at Chesterton and Valparaiso," he said. "We're recruiting."
Northwest Indiana leaders have been working to position the Region as more of a suburb of Chicago, given that wages are significantly higher there and that NWI's core base of manufacturing jobs has been eroding for decades. The South Shore Line double-track and expansion projects specifically are intended to attract more young families who would work in the Loop and live in Northwest Indiana.
Reduced travel time
Ned Jovanovich, who moved to Munster from Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood three years ago, said he believes there are too many empty seats on the train and ridership is declining too much for the expansion to work without exorbitant government subsidies. Jovanovich, who works in sales and marketing, takes the train into work three days a week, and said it's antiquated and could be faster.
He and his wife moved to Munster to start a family, and he was eager to escape Chicago's high taxes and housing costs.
"We pay 60 percent less in property taxes," he said. "We picked Munster because of the schools. It's comparable to Hinsdale, Lake Forest, any of the other Chicago suburbs."
Other riders were more excited by the train line's expansion southward and the double-tracking projects, which is expected to speed up service east of Gary because trains won't have to stop to let each other pass.
Amstadter said it would be convenient to have new stations in Munster and Dyer, which would be a 10-minute bike ride or five-minute drive from his house. Rossi said double-tracking should cut down on the travel time back home to Chesterton.
"With a 2-year-old at home, I treasure every moment I get with her," Rossi said, "so a reduction in travel time is something I truly look forward to."
Indianapolis Boulevard lane closures in Highland
Bridge deck replacement on Indianapolis Boulevard on the bridge located between Industrial Drive and the Meijer shopping center in Highland will restrict traffic to one lane in each direction beginning Monday and lasting through mid-November, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Calumet Avenue lane closures in Hammond
Bridge deck replacement on Calumet Avenue in Hammond between Michigan Street and Sibley Street will require restriction of traffic to one lane in both directions beginning Monday and lasting through mid-November.
Northbound traffic will not be allowed to make a left turn onto Michigan, and southbound traffic will not be allowed to make a left turn onto Sibley during that period.
Broadway lane closures in Gary and Merrillville
Paving work on Broadway between Interstate 80/94 in Gary and 61st Avenue in Merrillville will require lane closures through the end of June, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced last week.
Crews will be resurfacing Broadway during the final year of a two-year rehabilitation project.
I-65 expansion continues in Merrillville, Crown Point and Lowell
The expansion of I-65 to three lanes between Merrillville and Lowell will require overnight lane and shoulder closures and changing traffic patterns between U.S. 30 and just south of Ind. 2. Motorists should also expect lane closures on U.S. 231 and Ind. 2 near their interchanges with I-65.
The closures were set to begin this week and run through mid-October.
Crews will be working between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. Work will include installing new traffic patterns and signage and resurfacing pavement. Further south, crews will be working on the bridges over the Kankakee River.
Drivers in Northwest Indiana can monitor road closures, road conditions, and traffic alerts on the INDOT LaPorte District's on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/INDOTNorthwest and on Twitter @INDOTNorthwest. Visit www.trafficwise.in.gov for the TrafficWise Traveler Information Service.
Ind. 2 lane closures in LaPorte
The Indiana Department of Transportation has announced lane closures on Ind. 2 between Burson Avenue and the Ind. 2/U.S. 20 junction in LaPorte for resurfacing of the roadway. The closures are scheduled to begin Tuesday and last through early June.
South Shore Line Bikes on Trains program returns in April
The South Shore Line's Bikes on Trains program is offered on two morning and evening rush-hour weekday trains in addition to select weekend/holiday trains from April through October.
Bike cars are bike rack-equipped in addition to their regular seating so that passengers can ride in the car near their bicycle. The cars are clearly marked with a bike symbol on the windows. Bikes are not permitted during special Chicago events such as Lollapalooza and the Chicago Air & Water Show.
For more information on bike-friendly train schedules, discounts and to plan a trip, visit mysouthshoreline.com or download the SSL app for iPhone or Android. Passengers wishing to bring bicycles on the train must comply with the requirements listed on the South Shore Line’s website at: www.mysouthshoreline.com/plan-your-trip/bikes-on-trains.
Interact: Gas prices
Kids ride free on South Shore for Spring Break
The South Shore Line is expanding its Kids Ride Free program for spring break to include three children under the age of 14 to ride free with a paying adult on any train from March 24 through April 7.
The program is typically offered on weekends and off-peak weekday trains. The spring break program includes all trains.
"We would love to see families taking advantage of this offer and jumping on the SSL several times to explore the exciting places, events, and attractions the area has to offer,” said Nicole Barker, director of Capital Investment and Implementation.
For more information on train schedules, discounts and to plan a spring break trip, visit mysouthshoreline.com or download the South Shore app for iPhone and Android.
Amtrak Cardinal service impacted by Penn Station work
Track work at New York's Penn Station will impact Amtrak's Cardinal service beginning March 29. The Cardinal line begins in Chicago, runs to Indianapolis with stops in Dyer, Rensselaer and Lafayette, and heads to the east coast with stops in Cincinnati, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia on its way to New York. The service, with a total run time of 26 hours and 30 minutes, is offered three days per week.
Effective March 29, and until further notice, the eastbound Cardinal service will end at the Washington stop, and effective April 1, the westbound service will begin in Washington.
Amtrak said the change, along with several others, is necessary to reduce congestion at Penn Station. Amtrak is replacing two tracks and three turnouts at the station this year, as part of an ongoing effort to renew the station's infrastructure.
Gary airport hangar, customs, safety projects underway
The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board voted Friday to enter negotiations with Burling Builders of Chicago to build a new hangar the airport will lease to a corporate tenant.
The projected cost of a pre-engineered metal building and associated infrastructure to house a corporate jet is about $1.3 million. Interior finishing work will be included in another contract.
Airport officials would not discuss negotiations regarding a potential tenant.
Airport Executive Director Duane Hayden said the East Corporate Hangar will be built on vacant land at the southeast end of the row of existing hangars along Airport Road.
Other projects at the airport include continued construction work on the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility. Dan Vicari, a former airport executive director who still advises its officials, said the project is "on budget and on schedule."
The customs service plans a mid- to late June opening, he said.
And, a contractor has begun groundwork necessary for the Federal Aviation Administration to upgrade the lighting system that helps guide pilots to a safe landing. HIS Constructors, of Indianapolis, is overseeing the $878,000 project to remove and replace about 12,000 cubic yards of soil across about 1.4 acres.
The FAA then will install a new Medium Approach Light System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights, or MALSR.
2018 Indiana tourism guides and road map available
The Indiana Office of Tourism Development has published its 2018 Travel Guide and its new Indiana Roadway Map. They're available online at visitindiana.com/brochures, either by downloading electronic versions or ordering paper copies.
The state also has the 2018 Festival Guide, Agritourism Guide and Brewery & Winery Guide available at the website.
Regional planners adopt state traffic safety goals
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission is scheduled to vote Jan. 18 to adopt state traffic safety goals as its own. Metropolitan planning organizations are required by the federal government either to develop their own safety targets or adopt their state's in five categories.
The Indiana Department of Transportation's targets (expressed as a five-year average) are:
- Number of fatalities: 814.9
- Rate of fatalities per 100 million miles traveled: 1.036
- Number of serious injuries: 3,479.8
- Rate of serious injuries per 100 million miles traveled: 4.347
- Number of non-motorized fatalities and non-motorized serious injuries: 417
State projections, based on recent trends, for the five categories are, respectively: 846; 1.065; 3,577; 4,379; 497.
Airport lighting project starts
The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority has approved environmental remediation work that will allow the Federal Aviation Administration to upgrade the lighting system that helps guide pilots to a safe landing. The airport's board hired HIS Constructors, of Indianapolis, to oversee the project to remove and replace about 12,000 cubic yards of soil across about 1.4 acres. The contract is for about $878,000.
The work is in anticipation of the FAA upgrading the Medium Approach Light System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights, or MALSR. Approach light systems "provide the basic means to transition from instrumental flight to visual flight for landing," according to the FAA. The MALSR "provides visual information to pilots on runway alignment, height perception, roll guidance and horizontal references."
The Gary/Chicago International Airport has a new website at flygyy.com. GYY is the three-letter code identifying the airport.
The Gary Public Transportation Corp. is seeking "transit ambassadors" to help spread the word about its expanding bus service. GPTC is offering free bus passes to people who volunteer. Visit the GPTC office in the Gary Metro Center, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to apply.
Among the transportation-related bills introduced in the ongoing session of the Indiana General Assembly is House Bill 1080, which would repeal the prohibition on Indianapolis area counties from constructing and operating a light rail system. That prohibition was included in 2014 legislation allowing transit expansion in the capital city, on the grounds that light rail is too expensive.
Top 5 transportation stories in 2017
1. South Shore Line
The South Shore submitted its $615 million West Lake Corridor and $312 million Double Track projects to the Federal Transit Administration in September. Meanwhile, state and local governments committed to financing the rest of the Double Track project costs, and the state and Regional Development Authority laid the groundwork for promoting development around train stations.
What's next: The FTA will issue its rating of each project, with the expectation they will advance to final engineering. Congress and the Trump administration will finalize the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, and begin work on fiscal 2019, with decisions on infrastructure spending as part of that.
Among many other projects, the Indiana Department of Transportation's two-year $45 million Restore 94 project was essentially completed this year, as was the Indiana Toll Road's $220 million 80/90 Push project.
What's next: An increased gas tax and new vehicle registration fees will fund a higher level of roadwork beginning in 2018.
3. Cline Avenue Bridge
The Figg Bridge Group began work on its project to build a new, toll-funded Cline Avenue Bridge.
What's next: Plans call for the bridge to be completed in 2019.
4. Gary/Chicago International Airport
The airport began work on a new U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility. Its two fixed-base operators completed major expansion projects, with Gary Jet Center opening a new terminal and B. Coleman a new hangar.
What's next: The customs facility is scheduled to open in June. The Airport Authority is also working on a new master plan.
5. Gary Public Transportation Corp.
Gary's bus service finalized plans for service expansion along the Broadway corridor with the Broadway Metro Express, promising quicker travel times, more frequent service and more welcoming and accessible bus stops.
What's next: The service kicks off Feb. 19.
Christmas snow leads to Christmas crashes
Last week's Christmas Eve snowstorm made for trouble on Region roadways, including the heavily traveled interstate highways patrolled by the Indiana State Police.
The Lowell Post of the ISP reported the following statistics for the period from 7 a.m. Dec. 24 to 10 p.m. Dec. 25 on interstates 80/94 and 65:
- 68 property damage crashes
- 17 personal injury crashes
- 44 slide offs requiring tow truck assistance
- 32 motorists in need of assistance for fuel, flat tire and other problems.
The holiday accidents included a nine-car pileup on I-65 southbound in Jasper County, according to the state police. There were no injuries in that accident.
The ISP encourages motorists to slow down and leave extra space between vehicles during winter weather. It also encourages motorists to carry blankets, extra clothes, a cell phone charger, food, water, a flashlight and emergency flares or fuses in their vehicles.
State has new traffic app
Features of the service include:
- A zoomable, scrollable map-based display
- Current traffic speeds
- Travel advisories
- Winter weather road conditions
- Customizable alerts for road closures, construction/maintenance, accidents
- Traffic camera images from the Indianapolis, Northwest Indiana and Louisville-Southern Indiana metro areas.
Motorists can also report roadway hazards, repair needs, and other concerns on the INDOT app. They can also choose to receive email alerts on construction projects and maintenance activities.
INDOT's mobile app reports information for interstates, U.S. routes and state highways in Indiana. It does not include information on county roads or city streets.
Indiana law prohibits individuals from using a handheld electronic communication device to write, send or read a text message while driving. Drivers under the age of 21 are prohibited from using any electronic communication device while driving.
Gas consumption might hit record
The Federal Highway Administration noted recently that 2017 could become a record-setting year for gasoline consumption in the United States, if the trend set during the first half of the year has continued into the second half.
The 72 billion gallons consumed from January through June is just ahead of the total for the first six months of 2016. Last year finished with 145 billion gallons consumed.
South Shore fares from Hegewisch to go up
Fares on the Metra commuter railroad will go up Feb. 1, and, because Metra sets fares at the South Shore Line's Hegewisch station, they'll go up there too. The new fares will be:
Zone one includes Millennium, Van Buren, Museum Campus and McCormick Place stations; zone two includes the 63rd and 57th street stations.
Winter closure of Chicago Street
Chicago Street between Calumet and Columbia avenues in Hammond will remain closed to through-traffic through the winter.
The city announced recently that the Chicago Street rehabilitation project was delayed when utilities were found in an unanticipated condition or location, requiring their relocation. That has delayed paving until asphalt plants reopen in the spring.
Local traffic will have access to roadside parking spaces and will have limited access to Chicago Street, but will not have direct access to Calumet and Columbia.
INDOT winter operations under way
The Indiana Department of Transportation's Northwest district has had a busy start to winter with significant lake-effect snowfall, particularly east of the Region.
Statewide, INDOT deploys up to 2,000 drivers, mechanics, clerks and managers in 12-hour shifts. It has more than 28,000 lane miles of interstates, U.S. highways and state highways. Their goal is for a plow to pass every 2 to 3 hours until the road is clear.
Before storms, INDOT will apply salt brine; during and after storms it uses various chlorides to help make snow and ice pack plowable.
Troopers use the 'eye in the sky" for traffic enforcement
The Indiana State Police used an airborne patrol during an Interstate 65 traffic blitz held Dec. 8 by troopers from the Lowell post the ISP's Aviation Section.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Lee Wright piloted his Cessna 172 Skyhawk above I-65, and, using a Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder, or VASCAR, Wright would radio troopers and guide them to target vehicles.
Troopers issued 54 traffic citations, 34 for speeding, and 51 warnings between 7 and 11 a.m. Two criminal arrests were made, one crash was investigated and eight trucks were inspected with one being taken out of service. The highest speed recorded during the blitz was 96 mph.
The ISP plans to continue using its aviation section for traffic enforcement.
Region has two top freight-carrying interstates
As Christmas packages make their way across the country, the Federal Highway Administration tweeted a list of the interstate highways that rank highest in the amount of freight tonnage they carry — and two of them pass through Northwest Indiana.
Interstate 80 tops the list, with nearly 79 million tons annually. That transcontinental highway is the country's second longest, after Interstate 90, running about 2,900 miles from San Francisco to Teaneck, New Jersey.
It enters Indiana from the west joined with Interstate 94, then merges with Interstate 90 — the country's longest interstate — as it passes through Lake County.
Number two on the list is Interstate 65, which starts in Gary and runs about 1,400 miles to Mobile, Alabama, ranking it 16th on the list of interstates, eighth among the north-south highways. It carries nearly 69 million tons of freight annually.
The data is from the FHA's Freight Analysis Framework available here.
Hammond seeking engineer for bike trail extension
Hammond has issued a request for proposals to do the engineering work for a project to extend the Whihala Beach Bike Trail to the Illinois state line, where it would provide a connection to a planned trail that would extend to Calumet Park.
"This portion of the trail is a vital portion of the Marquette Greenway trail system that will ultimately interconnect the states of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois together," according to the request for proposals.
Plans call for the Marquette Greenway to run from the South Side of Chicago to New Buffalo, Michigan. Sections already in use include the Calumet Park Trail in Illinois, Marquette Trail in Gary, Calumet Trail in Porter and LaPorte counties as well as the short Whihala Beach Park and George Lake trails.
The estimated construction cost is $312,000, with 80 percent federal funding. Proposals are due Dec. 21.
The request for proposals is available here.
Illinois to provide update on I-55 'managed lanes' project
The Illinois Department of Transportation will update the public Dec. 6 on proposed changes to its Interstate 55 "managed lanes" project. Originally intended to add a single lane in each direction between Interstate 294 and Interstate 90/94, IDOT now hopes to include a second managed lane.
The state received federal approval in 2016 to build a single managed lane in each direction of I-55 between Interstate 355 near Bolingbrook to I-90/94, the Dan Ryan Expressway, in Chicago. IDOT would pursue a public-private partnership to fund the project, though a funding source hasn't been identified. The managed lanes would be tolled.
The meeting will be in an open-house format from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Toyota Park Stadium Club, 7000 Harlem Ave., Bridgeview, Illinois. The project website is here.
Gary airport moves forward with customs facility
The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority entered into a contract Nov. 29 with Lee Companies to manage the construction of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility at the airport.
The Gary-based company, which has performed work at the airport since 2008, will be paid $121,800 to manage the bidding process and the construction of the customs facility, expected to open in June.
The facility will allow the airport to receive general aviation flights directly from foreign countries, something it cannot do now.
I-65 traffic patterns will shift in winter
The ongoing Interstate 65 expansion project will have an impact on traffic patterns in the area between U.S. 231 in Crown Point and Ind. 2 near Lowell during the winter. On I-65, traffic will shift toward the inside shoulder to accommodate 8-foot outer shoulders.
And, traffic on U.S. 231 and Ind. 2 at the interstate interchanges will remain one lane in each direction during the winter. On U.S. 231 eastbound traffic will shift back to the east side of the road. Both directions are currently in the westbound lanes as a result of the ongoing I-65 widening project. A median will divide the traffic. The move is being made to enhance safety during winter.
Bike riders' train trips up in 2017
The South Shore Line completed its second season of allowing bicycles on some trains with a ridership increase of more than two-thirds over 2016.
Riders brought bikes on trains 1,673 times from April through October this year, as compared to 1,234 times in 2016.
While 2016 ridership was relatively flat through the seven months, this year's ranged from a low of 109 in April to a peak of 485 in July. The South Shore allowed bikes on some weekday trains this year; that accounted for 63 percent of the year-over-year increase.
Coach USA adds Valparaiso to airport service
Bus service from downtown Valparaiso to Chicago's Midway and O'Hare airports began last week. Coach USA Indiana Airport Supersaver offers hourly bus service from 2:25 a.m. to 11:25 p.m. daily.
Coach USA will offer direct service to Midway. Riders will change buses at the service's Highland stop for trips to O'Hare.
Fares are $29 one way and $52 round trip. The bus stop is at the corner of South Campbell and Brown streets, sharing a location with the new ChicagoDash parking lot. The bus will travel directly to Midway airport and will connect at Highland for the trip to O’Hare airport.
For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit the CoachUSA website at airportsupersaver.com or call 219-884-0054.
Survey says Hoosiers approve of gas tax
A recent Ball State University survey concludes that the majority of Indiana residents approve of a recent gas tax hike, enacted this year to fund road and bridge maintenance.
About 57 percent of respondents to the Old National Bank/Ball State Hoosier Survey said they supported the tax increase; about 38 percent disapproved.
The 10-cent per gallon tax increase, along with increased vehicle registration fees, is expected to raise $1.2 billion.
The full results of the survey will be released Nov. 9. Old National Bank/Ball State University Hoosier Survey has been conducted annually by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs since 2008. The Bowen Center contracted with the Princeton Survey Research Associates to poll 600 adults for the survey.
Interstate tolling study suggests billions in revenue
A study of the possibility of tolling interstate highways in Indiana concludes the state would likely collect $39 billion in tolls over a 30-year period beginning in 2021.
The study, by the engineering firm HDR, gave a 50 percent chance for that number to be as high as $53 billion.
The study was mandated by House Enrolled Act 1002, the road-and-bridge bill that raised the gasoline tax and other fees to fund a 20-year infrastructure program.
HDR suggested toll rates that it concluded "best balanced revenue and mobility."
Per-mile suggested toll rates for most interstates, including Northwest Indiana's, would be 4 cents for standard automobiles, 6 cents for medium trucks and 19 cents for heavy trucks. A car trip from Gary to Chicago on I-65 would cost $6.12; a trip on I-94 from the Illinois to Michigan state lines would cost $1.80.
The next step is a more complete strategic plan for tolling, expected to be completed by the end of next year.
Gary Jet Center opens new terminal
Gary Jet Center recently celebrated completion of a $3 million Corporate Flight Center that its leaders hope will help transform business aviation in the Chicago region.
The Corporate Flight Center completes 12 years of work to establish Gary Jet Center's west campus, home to its services as a fixed-base operator — a company that provides fueling, maintenance, aircraft management and hospitality services for private and business aviation. The west campus includes two 40,000-square-foot hangars, one of which has the environment-friendly LEED Gold certification.
The new building, which the company hopes will also be LEED certified, has a glass-walled, 45-seat lobby that looks out over the airport's main runway, which was extended to about 9,000 feet in a $174 million project completed two years ago.
The 8,300-square-foot flight center also offers pilot and crew lounges, a business center, a conference room, sleeping rooms and kitchen facilities, among other amenities. It is attached to the LEED-certified hangar, which opened in July 2014.
South Shore offers vets, current military free rides next weekend
The South Shore Line is inviting veterans and active-duty members of the military to ride for free Nov. 10 through 12 in honor of Veterans Day.
“By welcoming them on the train for free, we hope to convey our gratitude for all they have done for our nation. It’s our way of thanking veterans for all they’ve done to keep our country safe,” said Nicole Barker, director of capital investment and implementation for the railroad.
No identification will be required for a free ride; veterans and military members should simply inform South Shore staff of their status onboard trains that weekend.
Up to three children under 14 years of age may ride free with each veteran on off-peak weekday and all weekend trains.
For more information on train schedules, discounts and to plan a trip, visit mysouthshoreline.com or download the SSL app available for iPhone and Android.
Traffic counts scheduled for Lake, Porter
The Indiana Department of Transportation has contracted with the engineering firm DLZ Indiana to do traffic counts in Lake and Porter counties in 2018. Counts will be done at approximately 808 locations in Lake County and 372 in Porter County. Interstate highways are not included.
Data will be collected at each location for 48 hours and vehicles will be sorted into 13 classifications. Each lane and each travel direction will be evaluated.
"The data is used to assess transportation needs, system performance and to develop highway planning and programming recommendations. Traffic data also plays a very important role in route planning and in the design of highway projects," according to INDOT's website.
Illinois hopes to make interstate traffic flow faster
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has embarked on a project to improve the area's highway transportation corridors.
CMAP writes that "for decades, the Chicago region has struggled to maintain and modernize its expressways in the face of persistent funding gaps." Delays caused by congestion "cost the region $7 billion annually in lost fuel and productivity. Reducing delays will require new ideas, including a fresh approach to mass transit," the agency wrote in announcing the project.
Climate change will also be part of the analysis: "As the region experiences more frequent, heavier storms and more extreme temperatures, expressways will face greater stress from flooding, heat, and freeze-thaw cycles."
The project is being funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Tollway.
According to CMAP: "The vision will establish goals for the system's operation and performance. To help meet those goals, it will also identify new investments, strategies to manage traffic with cutting-edge technologies, and innovative options for public transportation. The vision will include recommendations for specific 10- to 15-mile stretches of the expressway system, known as corridors, and tactics to reduce the impacts on communities, businesses, and our environment.
"The vision will include a financial strategy. Expanded tolling is expected to be a part of that strategy."
The public will have the opportunity to provide input on the draft Expressway Vision in spring 2018, according to CMAP.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has embarked on a project to improve the area's highway transportation corridors. CMAP writes that "for decades, the Chicago region has struggled to maintain and modernize its expressways in the face of persistent funding gaps." Delays caused by congestion "cost the region $7 billion annually in lost fuel and productivity. Reducing delays will require new ideas, including a fresh approach to mass transit," the agency wrote in announcing the project.Climate change will also be part of the analysis: "As the region experiences more frequent, heavier storms and more extreme temperatures, expressways will face greater stress from flooding, heat, and freeze-thaw cycles."The project is being funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Tollway.According to CMAP: "The vision will establish goals for the system's operation and performance. To help meet those goals, it will also identify new investments, strategies to manage traffic with cutting-edge technologies, and innovative options for public transportation. The vision will include recommendations for specific 10- to 15-mile stretches of the expressway system, known as corridors, and tactics to reduce the impacts on communities, businesses, and our environment."The vision will include a financial strategy. Expanded tolling is expected to be a part of that strategy."The public will have the opportunity to provide input on the draft Expressway Vision in spring 2018, according to CMAP.
Interstate tolling study advances
The Indiana Department of Transportation is taking the next step toward instituting tolling on interstate highways by requesting proposals from firms interested in developing a strategic plan and doing other preparatory planning.
INDOT posted a request for proposals, or RFP, to do the work on Tuesday. The agency expects to select a firm by Jan. 26.
The state is considering five corridors for tolling: I-94 from Illinois to Michigan; I-65 from I-90 south to I-465 and then south from I-465 to the Ohio River; and I-70 from the Illinois state line to I-465, then from I-465 to the Ohio state line. It is also considering tolling in Indianapolis.
Tolling of an interstate highway, bridge or tunnel is reglated by federal law and requires Federal Highway Administration approval.
"INDOT anticipates pursuing a broad interstate bridge tolling program," the agency said in announcing the RFP.
The legislation mandating the studies sets a Dec. 1, 2018 deadline for completion of the strategic plan.
South Shore makes Notre Dame connection
The South Shore Line and South Bend Public Transportation Corporation, known as Transpo, will offer free shuttle bus service between the South Bend International Airport and Notre Dame Stadium for University of Notre Dame football games.
Passengers will board a Transpo bus near the South Shore train platform and be dropped off next to the Eck Visitors Center on campus.
For 3:30 and 5 p.m. kick-offs, eastbound passengers should take Train 503, which arrives in South Bend at 12:10 p.m. For 7:30 p.m. kick-offs, eastbound passengers should take either Train 503 or Train 505, which arrives in South Bend at 5:06 p.m.
The South Shore will operate its regular westbound weekend train service on game day Saturdays. Transpo will stage at the Eck Visitors Center and leave at 8:30 p.m. to meet Train 510, which departs South Bend at 10:16 p.m.
For games with a 7:30 p.m. kick-off, an extra train will depart South Bend 90 minutes following the conclusion of the games. Transpo will stage at the drop off location on campus and leave one hour after the conclusion of the game.
I-65 ramp in Crown Point, Indy Blvd. in Hammond to see closings
The 109th Avenue ramp to northbound Interstate 65 will be closed from 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10 to 5 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11 for repairs.
The nearest interchanges are U.S. 30 to the north and U.S. 231 to the south.
Indianapolis Boulevard will be closed between Summer Street and 165th Street in Hammond Monday, Oct. 9 through Saturday, Oct. 14 for a Norfolk Southern railroad crossing rehabilitation. The work schedule depends on the weather.
Bridge over Calumet Avenue in Hammond under construction
Construction of the Calumet Avenue Bridge in Hammond has begun. A small portion of the George Lake Trail from the Environmental Education Center south to the 125th Trail will be closed during the project. The crosswalk on the west side of 125th Street and the small parking lot on the east side of 125th and Calumet Avenue will also close as a safety precaution.
The bridge is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2018.
Toll road audit and oversight company sought
The Indiana Finance Authority, owner of the Indiana Toll Road, has issued a Request for Proposals seeking a company to perform audit and oversight work on its behalf. The toll road is operated by the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. under a lease agreement with the IFA.
The job would require six driving inspections in spring, summer and fall to evaluate the roads and related infrastructure. The RFP suggests each inspection trip with take three to four days. It would also require three winter inspection trips to evaluate snow and ice control. The work would also include inspecting ITRCC faciliities.
Proposals are due Oct. 27, and the IFA is scheduled to accept one Nov. 6.
I-65 bridge work to last through November
The Interstate 65 expansion project is requiring lane restrictions on U.S. 231 as work progresses on the interstate bridge, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation. The work is expected to last through November.
During the project, U.S. 231 will be reduced to a minimum of one lane in each direction at I-65 at all times.
The expansion project is adding a third lane to I-65 between Merrillville and Lowell and replacing bridges over the Kankakee River.
Chicago alderman announces Pullman Transportation Plan
Anthony Beale, who represents the Pullman community on the Chicago City Council, released a Pullman Transportation Plan on Sept. 18.
The 79-page document is intended to build off of recent economic development in the neighborhood, as well as the creation of the Pullman National Monument in 2015.
The ambitious plan includes these goals:
- Increase transit frequency and reduce commute times to and from Pullman for the benefit of residents and visitors
- Upgrade and improve Metra Stations at 103rd, 107th, and 115th Streets to attract and retain users and create a welcoming arrival to Pullman National Monument
- Develop connections to other destinations and National Parks, including programs starting in the Loop
Walking and bicycling
- Create safe sidewalks and street crossings throughout Pullman, including the restoration of the historic crossing at 111th Street and St. Lawrence Avenue
- Build a campus-like feel around Pullman National Monument through connected pathways, parks, and public art
- Connect Pullman to the surrounding neighborhood and amenities through improved bicycle and pedestrian pathways
Vehicles and parking
- Improve main streets in Pullman, such as 111th Street and Cottage Grove Ave., to improve safety and reduce collisions
- Develop a comprehensive parking plan to manage the anticipated visitors who arrive by car or tour bus
- Implement new connections for truck traffic to job sites and improve safety on neighborhood streets
Ind. 2 reopens east of Lowell
The Indiana Department of Transportation has reopened Ind. 2 between U.S. 231 and a mile east of Interstate 65, east of Lowell, after a three-month resurfacing project.
The $2.9 million project was originally scheduled to run through October.
Hammond road closings
The Calumet Avenue crossing of the Norfolk Southern Railroad will be closed Sept. 11 through 16 while crews replace the railroad rails. Calumet Avenue is U.S. 41 in that area.
The project is part of a larger Norfolk Southern rail replacement project that has closed crossing through the city the last several weeks, moving west to east.
Work at three other heavily traveled crossings, at Indianapolis Boulevard, Columbia Avenue and 169th Street, will be done in October. A variety of other temporary road closures are scheduled in Hammond according to a calendar distributed by the city.
Metra Electric schedule changes effective Sept. 11
New Metra Electric and Rock Island Line schedules went into effect Monday, Sept. 11. Metra Electric runs from University Park in the south suburbs into the city.
Ridership on the Metra Electric Line has declined nearly 14 percent over the past six years, down 1.4 million passenger trips. But recent data indicates that ridership at the three Hyde Park stations (51st/53rd Street, 55th/56th/57th Street and 59th Street) has increased 7.6 percent over the past three years.
Hyde Park continues to see a significant amount of growth, and transit-oriented development is part of that.
Metra Electric schedules are available here.
Indy-to-Paris flight announced
The long-time goal of a non-stop transatlantic flight from Indianapolis is set to be achieved next spring with the launch of a Delta Air Lines flight to Paris. The new flight was announced at a gathering of state, local, airport and company officials Sept. 6.
The service to Charles de Gaulle Airport is scheduled to begin May 24.
“This flight is a big win for our state’s business community and for Hoosier travelers," Gov. Eric Holcomb said. "I cannot wait to see that first Delta flight take off for Europe in just a few short months.”
According to the airport's announcement of the new service, 310 people travel from Indianapolis to transatlantic destinations daily. The Indianapolis Airport Authority has estimated the new air service could have a $50 million annual impact on Indiana’s economy.
The Indianapolis airport has added 37 nonstop flights since 2014, increasing its service to a total of 48 nonstop destinations.
Delta's Indianapolis-Paris service will be available for sale beginning Sept. 23. It will operate at least three times per week, according to the airport authority.
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has offered Delta Air Lines up to $5.5 million in conditional incentives over two years based on the company’s commitment to operate regularly scheduled nonstop flights between the two airports. The incentives, which are subject to approval of the IEDC Board, will be awarded based on the number of passengers served by the route over the next two years.
Rumble strips coming to U.S. 20
In an effort to improve the safety of U.S. 20 in LaPorte County, the Indiana Department of Transportation will add center line rumble strips to the highway between U.S. 35 and Ind. 2.
Lane closures will occur on Tuesday, Aug. 29 and Wednesday, Aug. 30 while the rumble strips are installed. Drivers should expect minor delays, according to INDOT.
The project, along with a new turn lane at County Road 400W, was originally planned for next year, but INDOT will use resources and equipment from a project on Ind. 39 to install the strips now.
The majority of injury crashes on U.S. 20 in LaPorte County occur as a result of distracted driving, according to INDOT, and the centerline rumble strips will provide warning to drivers whose vehicles are crossing the center line.
According to the agency, rumble strips have been shown to reduce fatalities caused by drivers running off the road and from head-on collissions by as much as 44 percent. INDOT officials say they've seen larger crash reductions on roads they've installed the strips.
INDOT also plans to resurface U.S. 20 between Ind. 212 and Ind. 2, with center rumble strips and a turn lane at CR 400W, in 2018. Then, plans call for construction of an interchange at U.S. 20 and Ind. 2 in 2019, and addition of a turn lane on U.S. 20 between CR 325W and CR 300W in 2022.
Hoosier Hendrickson holds highway helm
Former Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson was named deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration on July 24 and, in the absence of an administrator, is serving as acting administrator.
Hendrickson has taken leadership of the daily operations of the 2,900-person federal agency, where she oversees the a $44 billion annual budget, according to the FHWA website. She directs execution of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act, and co-chairs the U.S.-Canada Transportation Border Working Group and U.S.-Mexico Joint Working Committee.
Hendrickson most recently was director of the Indiana's Personnel Department, appointed to that position by Gov. Eric Holcomb. She was INDOT commissioner from 2015 to 2017, and previously served as deputy commissioner of INDOT's Greenfield District.
INDOT website maps highway info
The Indiana Department of Transportation maintains a "511" highway information site that provides information on roadwork, traffic and any winter weather and flooding conditions impacting state roads.
The website is at indot.carsprogram.org. The 511 refers to the three-digit dialing code designated for traveler information services. Registered users can personalize the information they see on the site.
INDOT has several other web-based tools for motorists, including the trafficwise.in.gov website monitoring traffic conditions, a central Facebook page plus others for each of its regions, and Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Keeping the South Shore cool
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is embarking on a project to replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in its single-level South Shore Line cars.
The $1.9 million project was made necessary by the pending phase-out of the refrigerant used in the units. The current ozone-depleting refrigerant will stop being produced in 2020, per an international protocol signed in 1987 in Montreal.
The new coolant requires new compressors, tanks and coils, NICTD Purchasing Manager Tony Siegmund told the Board of Trustees at its July meeting.
Work on each of 70 cars will take about three weeks. The entire project will take about five years, with one car being taken out of service at a time.
New York-based Transit Air will do the work, which is being funded with federal grant money.
Calumet Trail to see upgrades
A 4.5-mile stretch of the Calumet Trail will be closed until the end of October to allow NIPSCO to replace and upgrade an underground natural gas line.
The section of the trail from Mineral Springs Road to East State Park Boundary Road will be closed until approximately Oct. 31. The pedestrian crossing from the South Shore Line's Dune Park Station to the Indiana Dunes State Park will remain open. Signs and notices will be posted alerting trail users to the closure.
Then, as early as next year, upgrades to the Calumet Trail will begin.
"These upgrades include raising and paving the trail between Mineral Springs Road to just past the South Shore Dune State Park station," according to an announcement from Porter County, Indiana Dunes Tourism, and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
Funding from the latter organization and from the Regional Development Authority will pay for the work.
Toll Road operator urges motorists to ‘put the phone down’
The Indiana Toll Road Concession Company, Indiana Motor Truck Association and Indiana State Police are sponsoring a Put the Phone Down campaign that has secured almost 1,000 pledges from Indiana drivers since April. The campaign calls for motorists to help end distracted driving by making pledge videos, and challenging others to do the same.
A video promoting the campaign, and more information on it, are available at putthephonedownindiana.com.
New day for Broadway
The second half of a busy highway construction season kicked off with a pair of Lake County projects rehabilitating two main thoroughfares. The Indiana Department of Transportation is patching and paving Broadway from Gary to Crown Point, and doing crosswalk improvements, lighting upgrades and installing new bus shelters in Gary.
An early part of the project included demolition of the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad bridge south of 10th Avenue.
The Broadway project is paired with paving work on U.S. 30 between U.S. 41 in Schererville and Taft Street in Merrillville. Together they cost about $24 million. Both projects require temporary lane closures, though the roads will remain open to traffic throughout.
Metro Center makeover
Much-needed and long-awaited renovation work at the Adam Benjamin Metro Center on 4th Avenue in Gary began recently. The home and central terminal of the Gary Public Transportation Corp. and the downtown station for the South Shore Line is undergoing a nearly $1 million upgrade funded by federal grants and a local match from the city and its sanitary district.
Improvements are to include new flooring, ceilings and lighting, exterior lighting upgrades and other improvements.
Metro Center was built in 1984 and named for late U.S. Rep. Adam Benjamin Jr., who represented the first district — then including only the far northern portion of Lake County — from 1977 until his death in 1982.
Toll road update
Mainline work on the $200 million 80/90 Push project along the Indiana Toll Road was finished before the 4th of July holiday. The two-year project has involved paving and bridge work from Lake Station to Elkhart.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. and toll-plaza franchisees HMSHost and Sunoco opened new restaurant-and-fuel plazas in Howe last week. That is part of a $70 million update of plazas along the 157-mile road, including the two in Portage, which opened in April.
ITRCC has also updated the toll calculator on its website, for those who want to tally the cost of a trip between any two points on the road. The end of a state subsidy program in June means cash-paying and transponder-using motorists pay roughly the same, though rounding the price down to the nearest 10-cent increment for cash payers can mean they now pay several cents less than transponder users, according to the calculator.
Indiana roads: The 'Next Level'
Governor Eric Holcomb and Indiana Department of Transportation officials made several stops around the state last week touting the Next Level Indiana plan, a five-year road construction program packaging INDOT projects statewide.
State road and bridge funding received a boost during this year's General Assembly with enactment of House Enrolled Act 1002. The law created new funding sources — including the 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase — meant to sustain roads and bridges for two decades.
Next Level lists projects in Lake County totaling $112 million over the five-year period 2018-2022. Porter County's total is $35.7 million, and LaPorte County's $78.4 million.
Lake County's total puts it fifth among Indiana's 92 counties, following Morgan ($286.8 million), Marion ($251 million), Johnson ($177.1 million) and Hendricks ($124 million).