South Shore to Lowell trains could be on track in a decade

2013-11-22T15:49:00Z 2013-11-22T17:11:15Z South Shore to Lowell trains could be on track in a decadeRob Earnshaw Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 22, 2013 3:49 pm  • 

CHESTERTON | South Shore trains could be picking up riders in Lowell by the end of 2022 or beginning of 2033, according to officials working on a strategic business plan for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority

The West Lake extension of the South Shore was one of three investment programs URS Corp. executive Kenneth Kinney discusses Friday at a NICTD Executive Board meeting.

The mid-study status report included replacing double-tracking of the railroad, capacity improvements in downtown Chicago and replacement of cars, which is an $884 million program; and major investments to enhance and improve service on the line in Indiana. These include Gary station improvements and South Bend and Michigan City realignment, a $180 million program.

The cost of the first phase of the West Lake extension, to St. John, would be $615 million.

Kinney said the assumption is the major investments would need about 50 percent of the capital cost to come from the federal government.

“Very early in the game we’re addressing the question, yes we’re going to get a lot of federal dollars, but how are we going to address where we get the other dollars from? That will be part of the plan,” he said.

URS Principal Planner Jennifer McNeil said state and local share to match federal funds could come from using an economic development income tax, county option income tax, wheel tax, local option gas tax and local option sales tax.

McNeil said many of those are new and would need to be thought out carefully.

“Some of these would need alignments at the state legislative level to enable them,” she said.

Kinney said the South Shore is facing a much more competitive situation with Chicago suburban areas and it’s a factor driving the investment decisions being made.

Expanding to the south and improving service to Chicago can help attract and retain population and jobs in this area, he said.

“The most attractive demographic in the country is young professionals,” Kinney said. “(We’re) competing with northern and western suburbs of Chicago. Making transit investments can give us competitive advantages in that competitive situation.”

The $500,000 plan is being jointly funded by the NICTD and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. It addresses strategies for increased ridership, transit-oriented development, access to airports and recreational destinations, public/private partnerships and expansion of service. It is scheduled to be completed by May.

In other news, the board voted to ban passengers from smoking e-cigarettes on all trains.

“It creates an environment of uneasiness,” said NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas. “It’s a tremendous benefit on trains in terms of maintaining order.”

Hanas noted that most major railroads in the country have enacted the ban on e-cigarettes.

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