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Times Business Hall of Fame

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb answers a question Tuesday at the Northwest Indiana Business and Industry Hall of Fame luncheon at the Avalon Manor in Hobart. Holcomb announced his four appointments to the new Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees at the event.

HOBART — Governor Eric Holcomb has appointed Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Porter County Commissioner Jeff Good, Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer and St. Joseph County Commissioner Andrew Kostielney to the Board of Trustees of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, filling out a new five-member board that will be chaired by Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness.

The new board replaces an 11-member board. The change was included in state budget legislation that appropriated as much as $205 million more to the South Shore's West Lake Corridor and Double Track projects, each of which had previously received commitments of as much as $180 million over a 30-year period.

The governor announced his appointments at Tuesday's Northwest Indiana Business & Industry Hall of Fame luncheon, hosted by The Times Media Co.

"We want to get the job done," Holcomb said of the reason for the state legislation. "This was an effort to align, moreso and appropriately, all the agencies involved — the IFA, NICTD, the RDA."

The Regional Development Authority is the local fiscal officer for the projects; the Indiana Finance Authority is the state agency that will handle the issuance of bonds to finance them. Holcomb said the new NICTD board would be "a streamlined, aligned organization with one voice" to deal with the Federal Transit Administration, which administers the grant programs that could fund nearly 40 percent of the projects' costs.

"It's been seen very favorably by the FTA," Holcomb said of the legislation.

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The legislation requires the board to include one elected official from each of the four counties served by the South Shore Line, with no more than two from a single party. Kostielney was a member of the former board. The other three trustees, along with McGuinness, are new. 

The new board has not scheduled its first meeting.

The new, larger role for INDOT is associated with the financial pledge in the 2020-2021 state budget. The money will come from INDOT funds that the state collected through an Indiana Toll Road deal that provided the state $1 billion while allowing the toll road's operator to increase heavy truck tolls. The money is intended to replace some of the funding from federal grants that officials now expect to be at a lesser amount than originally thought. And $20 million of the new money will, if necessary, bolster the projects' contingency funds. 

"To have (the rail projects) move forward, there was just no other alternative but to find a way to do that," Holcomb said Tuesday of the state's additional appropriation.

The West Lake Corridor project would include a nine-mile extension of commuter rail service from Hammond to Dyer at an estimated cost of $816 million. NICTD, along with the Regional Development Authority and Indiana Finance Authority, are working with the Federal Transit Administration on a grant from the FTA's New Starts program that would cover 38 percent of the project cost. The project recently received a medium-high rating from the FTA, making it eligible to advance in the grant program.

The Double Track project would cover a 25-mile section of the current South Shore, adding a second set of tracks to single-track stretches between Gary and Michigan City and replacing and upgrading other infrastructure, including separating the railroad from Michigan City streets. The project's estimated cost is $416 million, and a financial plan is being completed now. That plan will need state approval before going to the FTA for inclusion in the New Starts grant program.

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Assistant Deputy Editor

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.