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South Shore - Dune Park

South Shore Line passengers disembark from a train at the Dune Park station in Porter. 

CHESTERTON — The South Shore Line's West Lake Corridor and Double Track projects have put in place their teams of project managers after the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees on Friday approved seven contracts that will pay as much as $35.8 million.

The contracts cover project administration and real estate services for both projects, and for the management of the West Lake project through its completion.

West Lake would extend commuter rail service south from Hammond to Dyer. Double Track would add a second set of tracks to single-track sections of the South Shore Line between Gary and downtown Michigan City.

Project administration

The NICTD board approved a project administration team that includes deputy project managers for each project as well as a lead civil engineer, systems lead engineer, quality assurance manager, risk manager and system safety specialist for the two projects together. The consultants work for three engineering services companies: HDR, Lakeshore Engineering and Gannett Fleming.

South Shore Line President Michael Noland said the action brings staffing up to the level demanded by the Federal Transit Administration. 

"We have enough staff to run the railroad as it is, and do our basic annual capital program. This is another billion dollars of capital development that's going to be undertaken over the next four to six years," Noland said.

The FTA will soon undertake a review of the railroad's capacity to manage the projects while maintaining current service.

"They want to make sure we have the right people in place to run these projects," Noland said.

The West Lake contracts have a not-to-exceed limit of $3.6 million; Double Track's have a limit of $4.4 million. West Lake's cost is lower because much of its deputy project manager's responsibilities will be handled by a NICTD employee.

District officials said an effort to hire its own employees for the positions did not yield viable candidates. Noland said the limited term of the potential jobs likely dissuaded qualified candidates from applying.

Real estate services

The NICTD board also approved the hiring of Indianapolis-based Beam Longest Neff to administer the real estate part of the projects, including property acquisition, property management and demolition.

The firm will be paid a maximum of $8.7 million for the West Lake work, and a maximum of $7.7 million for Double Track. A total of 306 parcels are expected to be needed in whole or part for the projects.

"The concept is to have one firm handling all real estate services to provide a shovel-ready parcel prior to construction for both the West Lake and Double Track projects," NICTD Purchasing Manager Tony Siegmund said.

The term of the contract is 24 months, and the acquisition process is expected to begin early next year. Noland said BLN will deal directly with property owners. Acquisitions are expected to begin early next year.

BLN was the only company to submit a proposal for the work. Siegmund said some large companies declined because they intend to be candidates for the design and build of the West Lake Corridor, and would not be eligible to do so if they had the real estate contract.

The $16.4 million contracts were several million above NICTD's estimate. Noland said BLN's initial proposal was negotiated down, and that the firm entered the process "wanting to be conservative," because it's handling an uncertain process, from appraisal to shovel-ready status.

"When you get into some of these properties, you don't know what you're going to find," Noland said, noting the industrial corridor portion of West Lake and environmental challenges that could include abatement of substances like asbestos and lead paint in homes. 

There's also uncertainty regarding the acquisition process. "How much is going to be condemnation? How many ready, willing and able sellers will we have?" Noland said.

He said the staff was "very comfortable" with the result of negotiations.

West Lake management

The NICTD board also approved a contract with the engineering firm HDR for the second of two phases of West Lake program management. The contract has a not-to-exceed amount of $11.4 million.

West Lake will be done on a design-build basis, which has one company doing design and construction. HDR will assist in procuring a contract for that, and will perform "design oversight, railroad coordination, utility coordination and public involvement" services.

HDR also did the first phase of engineering for West Lake, a $20 million contract that took the project through its Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The phase-two contract approved Friday was negotiated along with the first phase contract. HDR is also doing phase-one engineering for Double Track, and NICTD anticipates enacting a phase-two contract with the same firm early next year.

HDR's efforts will be headed by Mark Fuhrman, a former administrator at Minneapolis and St. Paul's Metro Transit system who will serve as project manager for both projects. Noland said Fuhrman managed several major projects for Metro, and has "25 years of New Starts experience." New Starts is the FTA grant program NICTD hopes will pay half the construction costs of West Lake and Double Track.

Noland said Fuhrman's familiarity with the Federal Transit Administration will also be a benefit. Fuhrman has moved to the area to oversee the projects.

The contractors will be paid for time worked on the projects on an as needed basis. The administration and management contracts last the duration of the projects, as much as six years.

The contracts must be approved by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which is the fiscal officer for the projects, and the Indiana Finance Authority, the state agency that will handle bond sales.

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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.