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RDA's ambitions revealed in new plan

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As engineering work for the South Shore Line’s West Lake expansion and Double Track upgrade moves forward, the Regional Development Authority is moving ahead with planning for development around Lake and Porter county train stations, the breadth and ambition of which is documented in the RDA’s recently completed Comprehensive Strategic Plan.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s Executive Board endorsed that plan Thursday. Residents of Hammond, Munster and Dyer will have an opportunity to add their input at a series of forums in coming days.

Meanwhile, RDA officials have been explaining the plan to a variety of groups, including the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors during a Tuesday forum, which touched on issues of economic development and the area’s sluggish population growth.

“Now we have a road map to guide us on how to tackle some of the issues we’re talking about today,” RDA Chief Operating Officer Sherri Ziller said of the strategic plan.

The strategic plan details population and economic growth, increases in state and local tax revenue, and predicts investment in property at and around train stations in Lake and Porter counties, which are the members of the RDA.

Among the projections in the strategic plan, which was prepared with the assistance of the consulting firms Policy Analytics and American Structurepoint:

Weekday South Shore ridership will grow from about 12,200 today to 24,000 by 2040.

The population of Lake and Porter counties will grow by 11,000 more people by 2046 due to the projects.

The projects will produce $264 million in additional commuters’ income annually for the two counties.

Additional economic activity will support 5,700 new jobs.

The projects would produce $502 million in state tax revenue and $504 million in local revenue between 2019 and 2038.

Short and medium term transit-oriented development at Lake and Porter county stations would total $2.3 billion in the first 20 years of operations.

The Chicago suburbs are seen as a model for transit-related growth. The RDA cites population growth of 226 percent since 1970 in Illinois’ suburban counties, while Lake and Porter counties have only grown 4 percent.

The Metra commuter rail system is seen as a catalyst for the growth. “We’re not really at the table; we’re not in the game at that level,” RDA President and CEO said during a recent presentation.

The strategic plan maps out the type of development that might occur around each station, including housing, retail, offices and recreational amenities.

The Comprehensive Strategic Plan was mandated by the state legislature last year when it reauthorized the RDA. The legislature instructed the RDA to focus its efforts on expanding commuter rail.

The RDA has hired the consultants Farr Associates, which will conduct public forums in the three West Lake Corridor communities, and KPMG, which is advising on financial matters related to transit-oriented development.

The West Lake Corridor’s expected construction cost is $600 million; preliminary estimates for Double Track NWI are $210 million.

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