Whihala Beachside Trail

The short trail in Whihala Beach Park is part of the plan for a Marquette Greenway that would stretch from Chicago to New Buffalo, Michigan.

Times file photo

PORTAGE — The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission expects to learn early next year if it's won a $24.2 million federal grant that it estimates could have economic benefits equal to about $186.7 million.

NIRPC officials announced in October their intention to apply for the grant to complete the 58-mile Marquette Greenway trail, and submitted an application that month with a 30-page narrative and 72 letters of support from public officials and private entities.

"The excitement about it is huge," NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner told the commission's Technical Policy Committee on Tuesday, noting support from federal and state legislators, mayors, public agencies and a variety of private organizations. 

The grant, which would help construct 30 miles of trail, would come from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. Forty TIGER grants were made in 2016, from among nearly 600 applications.

NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Mitch Barloga said local financial support is important. "They want to see partnership," he said. "They want to see skin in the game."

Local funding would cover about 30 percent of the total project cost of about $35 million.

The grant application also includes the benefit-cost analysis that produced the $186.7 million economic benefit conclusion. The calculation, which NIRPC describes as a conservative estimate, comes from federal modeling tools estimating the value of improvements in recreation, mobility, health, decreased auto use and safety.

Barloga compared NIRPC's application to a successful one made by Cleveland last year involving non-motorized transportation networks.

"We're about five times beyond their economic generation estimate," he said of the Marquette project.

Barloga said if the application isn't successful this year, NIRPC will try again next year. 

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.