South Shore plan chugs along

2013-09-24T11:30:00Z 2013-09-25T00:07:39Z South Shore plan chugs alongBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
September 24, 2013 11:30 am  • 

The problem of updating a South Shore commuter railroad built for the Northwest Indiana of 100 years ago was once again tackled by transit promoters on Tuesday.

“This railroad was built in an earlier time for a different economy,” URS Corp. executive Kenneth Kinney told about 35 local planners, elected officials and others at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton.

Those people were there to get an update on a strategic business plan being developed for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore. The $500,000 plan is being jointly funded by NICTD and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

The URS study examines key strategic issues for the 90-mile commuter railroad that include possible extensions, shortening commute times on the current line and how to foster development around stations.

All hopes for the South Shore encouraging job growth in Northwest Indiana revolve around one reality, according to Kinney.

“Northwest Indiana, for good or ill, this is a fact of life, is part of a bi-state region,” Kinney said.

After an effort to foster a four-county regional transportation plan crashed and burned before voters several years ago, local transit boosters are well aware of that fact and others.

“At the core of this we are in competition for our own children,” said Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority CEO Bill Hanna. “It's really about maintaining family unity and it's about job retention.”

The URS study is looking at numerous options for improving the South Shore. Those include ideas studied for decades, including extensions to Lowell and Valparaiso, as well as ways to speed up the last delay-prone 13 miles to downtown Chicago.

Other facets examined will include bus service, station locations, the makeup of the NICTD board and how to promote development around stations.

Some of the above will be presented as complimentary plans and some as competitive plans as far as what gets done first and how, according to Kinney. Details on the financing of projects  also will be developed.

The NICTD Regional Commuter Rail Strategic Business Plan will be completed by May, although many of its results will be done before that, Kinney said.

That means if legislation on NICTD is revived in the coming session of the Indiana General Assembly, legislators should have something to base their decisions on.

Mark Lopez, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, emphasized information has to be ready for legislators in the coming session, so that hard and fast timelines and goals can be formulated.

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