NWI 'game-changing' projects win recognition

2011-06-13T18:15:00Z 2011-06-15T00:25:11Z NWI 'game-changing' projects win recognitionBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The internationally recognized Urban Land Institute on Monday unveiled a list of 22 "game-changing" infrastructure projects for the Chicago area that includes 10 in Northwest Indiana.

Those projects included some that are still on the drawing boards, such as a high-speed rail station at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, and others well on their way to completion, such as the $54.3 million Hammond Lakes Project around Wolf and George lakes.

"Chicago and Northwest Indiana depend on one another," said Urban Land Institute Chicago Infrastructure committee member Paul Shadle in summing up the theme of the day. Shadle is a partner with law firm DLA Piper who served on the Urban Land Institute's committee for picking the projects.

The unveiling was undertaken in conjunction with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority at Hammond's Lost Marsh Clubhouse in front of about 130 people. The RDA already has committed at least $121.3 million to projects on the list.

"The RDA is intended to be a catalyst for transforming the economy and quality of life in Northwest Indiana," RDA Chairman Leigh Morris told the crowd to open the morning event.

Similar infrastructure projects with the potential for big paybacks to communities are being selected by Urban Land Institute district councils across the country as part of a national initiative. The institute is active in 99 countries and provides leadership in responsible land use and in creating and sustaining thriving communities. The Chicago district council has 1,100 members.

The Chicago district council broke down its game-changing infrastructure projects into two categories.

One group falls into what has been named the Lakeshore Industrial Heritage Corridor, which stretches from the abandoned U.S. Steel South Works site on Chicago's South Side to the active U.S. Steel Gary Works. The other group falls into the Suburban Projects of Regional Significance, which includes the Illiana Expressway in Northwest Indiana and Illinois.

Projects were selected that have the best chance of improving an area's economic competitiveness and opportunities for residents, said Mark Angelini, another member of the infrastructure committee. They also must have local support, promote environmental sustainability and be financially feasible.

The next step in the Urban Land Institute's process is to examine the land use implications of each project, conduct research and outreach to communities, and then produce a final document on the projects, including land use recommendations for each.

Urban Land Institute findings are developed to be used by planning groups, economic development organizations and government agencies in their planning.

Although the project list for the Lakeshore Industrial Heritage Corridor includes "South Shore expansion," a presentation in the morning by the Urban Land Institute's Jon DeVries made it clear the West Lake Corridor extension to Lowell and Valparaiso was not included as part of that.

Instead, the Urban Land Institute will focus on studying the possible effects of the Kensington Crossing improvements on the South Shore, which is a project now under way, and possible links between the South Shore and the CTA's planned Red Line expansion to 130th Street.

There also is potential for transit-oriented development around South Shore stations in Hegewisch, Hammond, East Chicago and Gary, according to the Urban Land Institute's list.

In response to a question from RDA board member Lou Martinez, DeVries said the West Lake Corridor extension was not included because it doesn't seem to yet have the same degree of support as other projects. However, he said all the South Shore expansion projects included in the Urban Land Institute's list would lay the groundwork for the West Lake Corridor.

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