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South Shore - Dune Park

South Shore Line passengers disembark from a train at the Dune Park station in Porter. State and local agencies are currently engaged in approving the financing plan for the railroad's Double Track project between Gary and Michigan City.

MERRILLVILLE — The financial plan for the South Shore Line's $416 million Double Track project received two of the four agency approvals it needs Thursday, with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and Indiana Finance Authority boards voting in favor of it.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and State Budget Committee are scheduled to meet Monday to consider the package of agreements that also includes updates to the financial plan for the $816 million West Lake Corridor project and to the governance agreement that formalizes the roles and responsibilities of the agencies involved in the two projects.

"This is another exciting step in the progression toward opening day for Double Track and West Lake," NICTD President Michael Noland said after the RDA's vote.

"It will allow us to begin to move into the next phase of the (Double Track) project," he said. That includes tasks like property acquisition, utility work and other preparatory steps.

RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said the Double Track plan and the updates to the West Lake plan and governance agreement reflect an increase to the contingency fund required by the Federal Transit Administration, a decrease in the expected amount of the federal grants that will help fund each project, and the subsequent commitment by the state to fill those needs.

"This is a big step today," Hanna said. "It also reflects a huge level of support from the governor and General Assembly."

The state budget Gov. Eric Holcomb signed at the conclusion of this year's legislative session included as much as $205 million in additional state funds for the two rail projects. 

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Hanna said there are two main components for the competitive federal grants that would pay 38 percent of the projects' costs: "solidity of financing" and "the strength of the economic development aspect."

"We're trying to be as competitive as we can on the national level," Hanna said. "This gets us there in terms of the financial competitiveness."

The non-federal funding for West Lake is a combination of state and local money, along with RDA funds. Along with state and RDA money, Double Track will receive contributions from LaPorte and St. Joseph counties. Michigan City is providing two-thirds of LaPorte County's contribution.

The "cash contributors" will have 120 days from the State Budget Committee's approval of the finance plan to make their $18.25 million pledges available.

Construction on the Double Track project is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2021, with completion in the summer or fall of 2023.

NICTD intends to submit Double Track to the Federal Transit Administration for its rating this summer, with the hope of moving into the grant program's engineering phase in November.

West Lake has received a "medium-high" rating from the FTA, allowing it to advance in the New Starts grant program. Plans call for it to begin operation in 2024.

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Assistant Deputy Editor

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.