South Shore commuter train

A westbound train arrives at the South Shore Line's East Chicago station. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's board voted Friday to hire an engineer for the West Lake Corridor extension that would take the commuter rail line south to Dyer.

File photo

CHESTERTON — The South Shore Line’s governing board on Friday hired international engineering firm HDR to manage the engineering and further environmental work necessary to submit the proposed West Lake Corridor extension plan to the federal government next summer.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s board approved a $20 million contract for the work. The money comes from the Regional Development Authority, which authorized the amount last month.

HDR and its subcontractors will perform federally mandated environmental studies, and bring project engineering to roughly the 50 percent point. That will enable it to be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for its review next August, NICTD President Michael Noland said.

“It’s a huge level of effort,” Noland said.

FTA approval would open the $600 million project to matching federal funds, which would pay about half the cost. The local half will come from state and local governments.

Currently, NICTD is completing a draft environmental impact statement with the assistance of the engineering firm AECOM. NICTD expects that to be completed in early December, if not sooner.

The draft will include a “preferred option” for station locations and other features of the West Lake project, which would take the commuter railroad from Hammond south to Dyer.

HDR’s work will take the environmental impact statement from draft to final phase, and then to a record of decision issued by the FTA.

The federal approval process also includes the FTA’s authorization to enter the project development phase, something NICTD expects “any day now,” Noland said.

“Once we’re in project development, everything we spend on this project counts toward our local match,” he said.

HDR, which has offices in Chicago, is also doing preliminary engineering work for the South Shore’s double-tracking project, which would add a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City. The West Lake work will be done by a separate team, Noland said.

Also Friday, the NICTD board authorized replacing a bridge over the CN/EJ&E Railroad near Cline Avenue. The $2.5 million federally funded project will replace one of its two bridges over the freight line, leaving the South Shore with a single track from Clark Road in Gary to Kennedy Avenue in East Chicago while construction is going on.

The project depends on NICTD reaching agreement with CN, which controls the area under the South Shore bridges.

The project will require busing eastbound train 203 passengers from Millennium Station, and could delay the departure of eastbound train 119 from Millennium Station from 5:58 to 6:20 p.m.

Other midday trains also could be delayed by the project, which is expected to last two weeks beginning Oct. 10.

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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.