Gridlock to be thing of the past

2013-04-24T00:00:00Z Gridlock to be thing of the past nwitimes.com
April 24, 2013 12:00 am

For more than 70 years, the railroad tracks at 45th Street and Calumet Avenue have been a concern to Munster officials. As Munster has expanded south and Calumet Avenue opened through to U.S. 30, long traffic backups because of trains at this crossing have grown exponentially.

During morning and evening rush hour, this intersection is normally busy, but add a train with the typical 100-plus freight cars, and heavy traffic becomes gridlocked any time of day, Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio says

“It usually takes four changes of the light signal to get everyone through who was waiting for the train to go past," DeGiulio says. “That's 45 minutes.”

Long delays at Calumet and 45th aren't exclusive to rush hour, especially if trains sit idling for any length of time.

In the next few months, the dream of eliminating that headache will begin becoming a reality because development plans will be introduced for the grade separation project, Munster Steel's relocation to a new facility in Hammond and a mixed-use development at the north end of Centennial Park, says DeGiulio.

The Munster Steel site is integral to the 45th Street/Calumet Avenue grade separation project that will be accomplished in two phases.

The grade separation project calls for an underpass for vehicular traffic under elevated railroad tracks that carry Canadian National trains.

The plans call for a new stretch of 45th to run through the current site of the Munster Steel Co. fabrication plant and allow east-west traffic to cross Calumet Avenue instead of having to turn onto Calumet for a short stretch to cross the tracks. The reconfiguration still will allow westbound cars on 45th to turn onto Columbia Avenue and head toward the medical campuses to the north.

Four regionally based companies have been working together on the design engineering – Robinson Engineering, J.F. New environmental/ecological solutions, DLZ Construction and Linden Group Architects.

The approval process for the designs has also been long and multifaceted, DeGiulio says. One of the major hurdles has been getting the approval of the Indiana Department of Transportation. Because of the federal funding being used, specific design elements must be part of the bridges. There also are some environmental issues.

Phase 1 of the two-phase plan would include a realignment of 45th Street at the Munster Steel site. Currently 45th Street dog-legs at Calumet Avenue north of the CN tracks, and picks up again southwest of the tracks. Renderings show that street curving under elevated tracks.

Another rendering shows how vehicular traffic will move under the railroad track overpass along Calumet Avenue.

Pedestrian sidewalks and an elevated pedestrian bridge allow foot traffic on either side of 45th Street. Sidewalks with decorative fencing also parallel the traffic lanes of Calumet Avenue.

Solid architecturally designed walls will line 45th Street and Calumet Avenue, allowing green spaces and room for possible multi-story housing.

An elevated bike path, part of the Pennsy Greenway trail, could also be built along the railroad tracks. A decorative wrought iron sign with "Pennsy Greenway" over the 45th Street grade separation would visually tie the project together with the multi-community bike path.

Phase 1 will take about two years once construction starts. Phase 2 construction will take another two years. The total time from start to finish could be six years.

“Town officials are working to complete the grade separation with the help of the state of Indiana, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the federal government,” DeGiulio says. “Money for design engineering is in place thanks to a $3.5 million grant supported by Congressman Pete Visclosky and former Senator Richard Lugar.”

To make way for Phase 1, the relocation of Munster Steel to a new facility in Hammond is “a win-win”, according to DeGiulio.

“This is a third-generation business that now is set up to expand,” he says. “Munster will lose the oldest continuously-run business, but the land will be redeveloped into Centennial Village.”

Centennial Village will be located north of Centennial Park and will be a mixed-use development that includes commercial and residential properties. High-rise condominiums will allow empty nesters to stay in Munster, DeGiulio says.

“This is a really exciting plan. It also has a lot of challenges,” he says. “We started looking at this in 2004.”

Work will begin on the 45th Street underpass with the Calumet Avenue portion of the project being constructed after that. Construction is expected to begin on the 45th Street reconfiguration and continue for two seasons.

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