South Bend and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District are considering five locations for the city's South Shore Line station after receiving a report last week from the engineering firm AECOM that estimates costs and returns on investment.
The commuter railroad and city had begun plans to move the station at South Bend International Airport to the west side of the airport terminal from its current east-side location, and to straighten the railroad's route to the airport, at an estimated cost of $25 million. While that remains one of five possibilities, Mayor Pete Buttigieg asked for a pause in planning last year to consider other sites.
South Shore President Michael Noland said at a recent meeting of NICTD's Board of Trustees that South Bend officials' request was made "to make sure that the estimated price tag of around $25 million was giving them the greatest return on investment and least disruptive route."
AECOM studied five potential sites for a station:
• A "chocolate factory" site in the southwest quadrant of the U.S. 20 and U.S. 31 interchange, the location of a proposed South Bend Chocolate Factory tourist destination.
• A site on Honeywell Corp. property at Westmoor Street west of Bendix Drive, using the current South Shore tracks.
• The Amtrak station at Washington and Meade streets.
• A downtown site near the Union Station Technology Center on South Street along existing freight tracks.
• The original airport realignment plan, which would move the station from the east to the west side of the airport, shorten the railroad's route to it and reduce the number of road crossings.
The current travel time from South Bend to Millennium Station in Chicago is 115 minutes. When combined with the proposed double-tracking project between Gary and Michigan City, a track realignment through South Bend to a relocated airport station would reduce that travel time to 84 minutes. Any of the other four locations would reduce travel time to 82 minutes, according to the AECOM study, fulfilling the South Shore's ambition for a 90-minute trip from South Bend to Chicago.
"That's the goal we've been chasing for a long time," Noland said.
AECOM's projected daily passenger boardings range from 698 at the chocolate factory site to 735 at a downtown station.
Costs and benefits
Construction costs vary widely. The Honeywell site would require $23.9 million, according to AECOM. The airport realignment would cost $29.5 million; Amtrak, $31.7 million; the chocolate factory, $44.3 million; and downtown, $102.3 million.
The projected operation and maintenance costs are $247,430 for the airport realignment and for the chocolate factory site, and $577,430 for the other three potential station sites.
AECOM analyzed return on investment, in the form of transit-oriented development, within a half-mile of each potential station site.
The estimated 10-year economic impact ranges from $83.8 million with the airport realignment option to $415 million with the downtown option. The others are in the mid-$100 million range. The impact on tax revenues over the 10-year period vary similarly — from $8.8 million at the airport to $45.2 million downtown. The others are between $10 million and $20 million.
The study also contemplates the possibility of doing nothing. While there would be no construction costs or changes to operations and maintenance, the economic impact numbers are much smaller: its economic impact over a decade would be $39 million, and tax revenue $7.2 million.
South Bend has agreed to pay for the project, having entered an agreement with St. Joseph County that has the county making a contribution to the double-tracking project.
Pursuing federal funding was always part of officials' thinking, but the higher price tags for some of the new options would make it even more critical. The South Shore is doing the necessary preparatory work to pursue federal grants.
"We would do the environmental work such that it would be eligible for federal funding, should federal funding become available," Noland said.
That would most likely take the form of a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant, one of the competitive federal transportation programs the Trump administration has proposed eliminating but Congress has sustained — tripling the 2018 appropriation from the normal $500 million to $1.5 billion.
"We'd certainly like to be positioned, with whatever comes out of South Bend as the chosen location, to compete for a TIGER project," Noland said. "What we're proposing here fits neatly and very well into the TIGER model. I think we'd score extremely well."