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Whihala Beachside Trail

The short trail in Whihala Beach Park is part of the plan for a Marquette Greenway that would stretch from Chicago to New Buffalo, Michigan.

PORTAGE — Gaps in the long-planned 58-mile Marquette Greenway trail could be filled in the next five years if the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission gets a $24 million grant it's applying for this month.

Plans call for the Marquette Greenway to run from the South Side of Chicago to New Buffalo, Michigan. Sections already in use include the Calumet Park Trail in Illinois, Marquette Trail in Gary, Calumet Trail in Porter and LaPorte counties and shorter trails at Whihala Beach Park and George Lake.

The longest gap is through Ogden Dunes and Burns Harbor that would connect the west and east portions of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The eight-mile stretch is referred to as the National Lakeshore Connector. Stretches in Lake and LaPorte counties also remain undone.

Regional planning agency seeks grant to finish Marquette Greenway

"We hope we can get all that taken care of through this funding," NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Mitch Barloga said during a Tuesday meeting of the agency's Technical Planning Committee. He said the full project has an estimated cost of about $33 million. Local funding will make up the difference.

NIRPC is applying for a highly competitive TIGER or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant for the project. In 2016, the Department of Transportation awarded 40 grants from among 585 applications.

Congress allocated $500 million to the program in the fiscal year 2017 federal budget.

"We thought it would be a nice idea to try for the home run ball," Barloga said. 

He said the overall project would have 20 components, including about 30 miles of trails and associated infrastructure like bridges and boardwalks.

If completed as planned, the Marquette Greenway will connect to the Burnham/Pennsy Greenway, Erie-Lackawanna Trail, Prairie-Duneland Trail, Dunes-Kankakee Trail and the Lincoln Memorial Trail corridor.

Barloga compared NIRPC's application to a successful one made by the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District last year. That $7.9 million grant funded just under half of a project to construct four miles of trails and a bridge to the city's lakefront. The project will "complete an active transportation network," according to DOT.

"That was one city," Barloga said. "We're talking about three states."

The sole successful Indiana applicant in the 2016 cycle was Madison County, which won $13.5 million for a bridge replacement over the White River. Other Indiana applicants included the Indiana Department of Transportation, LaPorte County, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Ports of Indiana.

The deadline for applying for a 2017 TIGER grant is Monday. Barloga said NIRPC will know late this year or early 2018 if it gets the grant. He estimated it would take three to five years to get the work done, with local governments being the lead agencies for their portions of the trail.

The TIGER grant application comes as Porter County officials consider making use of a $1.6 million federal grant, coupled with $400,000 in local money, to pave a two-mile stretch of the Calumet Trail between Mineral Springs and Tremont roads.

And on Tuesday, the Indiana Department of Transportation issued a request for proposals on behalf of Michigan City for engineering of a Singing Sands Trail that would run from the east end of the Calumet Trail to downtown Michigan City. That segment also already has federal funding available.


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.