MUNSTER | The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District on Tuesday accepted comments and answered questions from the public on the proposed southward extension of the South Shore rail line.

The “public scoping” session at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts offered more than 100 attendees a chance to talk informally with NICTD officials and project managers as they begin the environmental study required by federal law before the project can be undertaken.

“I heard the spectrum,” said Mike Nolan, NICTD general manager.

The West Lake Corridor Project would include a 9-mile extension south from Hammond to Dyer, with stations in Hammond, Munster and Dyer, and a maintenance facility.

Before in-depth design and engineering work begins, an environmental impact statement needs to be completed.

“We have to look at everything,” said project manager Lisa Ives, of AECOM, “from transportation to social, community and economic impact to the natural environment.”

The West Lake Corridor runs through a diverse area. “We’ve found there’s a little bit of everything,” Ives said.

Several attendees own property along the route.

“I just purchased a business and I’m nervous about how this will effect us,” said Dr. Molly Farrell of Dyer Animal Clinic near the Dyer Amtrak station.

Farrell’s husband, Tom Corey, said he’s fine with the financial plan for the project, and hopeful for the economic development its supporters promise, but “we need to see an impact” on the nearby property.

After discussing their concerns with project managers and seeing current plans for the train tracks, “I feel better about it,” Farrell said. “I’m not so worried.”

Chris Losiniecki, of Munster, wasn’t convinced. The homeowner — and South Shore commuter — called the project “a terrible idea.”

“That’s my backyard,” she said, pointing to a project map. “These are people’s neighborhoods.”

Others expressed strong support.

“This is sorely needed,” said Linda Stefanich, a Griffith resident and 25-year commuter to downtown Chicago. “People need a reliable way to get to downtown Chicago without paying $300 a month for parking.”

Stefanich the extension southward would cut the driving time of many commuters significantly, and would attract more train-riders from south Lake County.

William Moore, a Hobart resident who grew up in Hammond, said “this project needs to go forward.”

“For the city of Hammond, this type of project can help rejuvenate downtown,” he said.

The environmental study is expected to take until 2016. A draft environment impact statement is expected to be completed in about a year.

The full West Lake Corridor project’s cost is an estimated $571 million, according to a study prepared by AECOM for NICTD. The Federal Transit Administration would pay up to 50 percent through its New Starts program. Lake County and most of its municipalities also have committed money to the project.

The current timeline calls for the impact statement to be completed by fall 2015 and project development to beginn in early 2016.

“This is a process,” NICTD’s Nolan said. “I’m excited about the project but you have to go through the steps.”

The public can submit comments regarding the project online at www.nictdwestlake.com, by e-mail to project.email@nictdwestlake.com, or by calling an automated comment line at (219) 250-2920. Written comments may be mailed to: NICTD West Lake Corridor Project, 33 E. U.S. Highway 12, Chesterton, IN 46304.Comments for the current “public scoping” period must be submitted by Nov. 11.

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Metro Editor