CHESTERTON — A Friday deal to reopen shuttered portions of the federal government, at least temporarily, could alleviate a paperwork logjam that's had agencies like the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District waiting for the federal approval needed for critical equipment.
The NICTD board, which oversees the South Shore Line, met Friday morning. Railroad President Michael Noland told the board the partial federal shutdown hadn't threatened the South Shore's operations, but had put a delay on Federal Transit Administration authorization of the purchase of propulsion equipment for up to 50 of the South Shore's rail cars.
"That's a vital item for our rolling stock," Noland said. The NICTD board approved a $13.7 million contract in September for AC propulsion units from Toshiba.
The contract called for delivery of 18 units in 2019 and 32 in 2020, with two of the 50 reserved as spares. Because NICTD intends to use 32 of the rehabilitated cars on the planned West Lake Corridor, it needs a "letter of no prejudice" from the FTA that will allow it to charge the 32 units to the West Lake project, which will be 50 percent funded by the FTA.
Noland said Friday that the FTA was on the verge of completing its role in the purchase when the shutdown began.
Noland also noted the shutdown could delay the administration's release of its annual report on the Capital Investment Grant program that includes the grant that would fund half the cost of the $764 million West Lake Corridor and the $400 million Double Track project.
The report, normally released in early February, is expected to include an official rating for the West Lake project that would advance it to the final step before a grant agreement.
Noland said the Double Track project could be submitted for rating this spring. Work on the financial plan for that project is continuing, with the Regional Development Authority as the lead financial agency.
The plan would need the approval of the Indiana Finance Authority, which will handle the bond issue, and by the State Budget Committee. Local authorities in LaPorte and St. Joseph counties will need to take action necessary for them to make local contributions within 120 days of the State Budget Committee's approval.
The RDA is handling the local contributions for Lake and Porter counties.