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South Shore

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District on Monday approved a governance agreement describing the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies involved in the West Lake Corridor and Double Track NWI projects.

CHESTERTON — The first actions of the new Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees included ratification of a governance agreement for its West Lake Corridor and Double Track projects and the hiring of two firms to complete engineering and manage the latter.

The new five-member board was created by the state during this year's General Assembly. It is chaired by Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness.

"I am here to work with each and every one of you in this room," McGuinness said at the board's Monday meeting. "This is a Northwest Indiana project, but there is a significant benefit to what the South Shore Line does, and what the potential West Lake does, for the entire state."

The governance agreement details the roles and responsibilities of NICTD, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the Indiana Finance Authority in West Lake and Double Track. It also includes finance plans for each project.

Monday's action updated an agreement enacted last year. The new agreement reflects up additional funding of up to $205 million committed by the state in light of a reduction in the previously expected federal contribution. The finance plan for Double Track has also been added to the agreement.

The RDA and IFA took similar actions last week, and the State Budget Committee gave its required approval to the updated governance agreement Monday.

NICTD intends to submit the Double Track project to the Federal Transit Administration this week for entry into the engineering phase of the New Starts grant program that would pay 38% of the project's $416 million development and construction cost. The railroad hopes for an FTA decision in November.

In anticipation of that, the board on Monday approved contracts with AECOM Technical Services to provide final engineering and design services for the project, and with HDR Engineering to provide program management services. The contract sets AECOM's compensation at a not-to-exceed sum of about $13.4 million; the HDR contract has a not-to-exceed sum of about $5.2 million.

Both companies have already played significant roles in engineering and management for the projects. The result of their new work on Double Track will put the project in position for NICTD to solicit bids for construction, which, according to NICTD's schedule, would begin in May 2021, with service beginning in March 2023.

HDR is also serving in a program management capacity for the West Lake Corridor. That project is already under consideration for entry to the engineering phase of the New Starts grant program, and on Monday, the NICTD board approved a short-list of candidates to design and build the project. They are: F.H. Paschen-Ragnar Benson joint venture; Walsh-Herzog joint venture; and Kiewit Infrastructure Co.

Unlike Double Track, the West Lake project will be designed and built by a single company or joint venture. The "design-build" process, unlike the traditional "design-bid-build" process that segregates engineering and construction, is presumed to allow the freedom to find efficiencies in delivering the project.

"It'll allow the contractors to use innovation to come up with cost savings," said Chris Beck, NICTD's chief infrastructure development officer, during a presentation to the board.

The three finalists will have until early December to deliver proposals to do the rest of the engineering for West Lake — estimated at 70% of the total — and then to build the new nine-mile rail line, four stations and maintenance yard. NICTD's schedule calls for construction to begin in May 2020, with service to begin in March 2024. The current cost estimate for the project is $816 million.

Monday's actions were approved unanimously by the board, which, in addition to McGuinness, includes Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Porter County Commissioner Jeff Good, Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer and St. Joseph County Commissioner Andrew Kostielney.

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Transportation Reporter

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.