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A westbound South Shore Line train travels through downtown Michigan City. The railroad's tracks will be moved off the street if a double-tracking project comes to fruition.

MERRILLVILLE — The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority on Thursday committed $3 million annually to the South Shore Line's Double Track project, part of a $290 million effort to add a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City and to shift the tracks out of the center of the street in the latter community.

The allocation constitutes Lake and Porter counties' share of the project. The annual payment would continue for 30 years, unless the project's bonds are retired earlier.

LaPorte County has decided to pay its share of the project upfront, as allowed by legislation enacted at this year's Indiana General Assembly, with an $18.25 million contribution from the county and Michigan City.

St. Joseph County also is considering an $18.25 million upfront contribution. A vote of the county's Board of Commissioners could happen June 20.

The state has committed $6 million annually to the project.

Half of the design and construction cost, or about $145 million, would be covered by a federal grant for which the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District will apply late this summer.

Bill Hanna, president and CEO of the RDA, said locking up state and local financing in advance of sending an application to the Federal Transit Authority will be a benefit in the competitive grant process.

"We are at a distinct advantage in relation to our competitors," Hanna said.

The RDA board of directors also approved about $3.7 million in expenditures regarding Double Track and the West Lake Corridor project, an extension of the South Shore from Hammond to Dyer with a price tag of about $615 million.

Most of the money, $2.9 million, will fund a contract with the consulting firm KPMG, which is working on attracting private development around current and future train stations. KPMG is creating a detailed market study and has been in contact with potential developers, Hanna said.

The remainder of the money will pay for legal, accounting and public engagement services.

Board member Phil Taillon objected to approving the expenditure before the projects receive their FTA ratings, anticipated this fall.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the board approved the hiring of planning firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure to do a feasibility study and market analysis evaluating the possibility of building a convention center, a long-sought goal of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.

The firm is headquartered in Minneapolis and has a Chicago office. The contract is for $56,500.

Lake County government requested the study, which will consider the market for convention space and the best locations for a center. Once a contract is finalized, the study should take about six months, RDA Chief Operating Officer Sherri Ziller said.


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.