The South Shore Line's plan to double-track the railroad between Gary and Michigan City has received a major boost from the Federal Transit Administration with advancement of the project to the engineering phase of its Capital Investment Grants program.
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, operator of the South Shore, announced the decision Tuesday after it was published in the FTA’s "Annual Report on Funding Recommendations." The decision, along with a “medium-high” project rating, allows NICTD to begin the final engineering phase of the Double Track Northwest Indiana project and positioning it to begin negotiations late this year for a New Starts grant that would fund 38% of the project's estimated $416 million capital cost.
“We are thrilled to announce that the Double Track Northwest Indiana project has reached this critical milestone in the FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program,” said NICTD President and CEO Michael Noland. “The continued hard work of the project team and the full support of Gov. Holcomb, the Indiana General Assembly, and our Hoosier congressional delegation is reflected in reaching this critical milestone.”
Noland said he spoke with FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams Tuesday morning and she reiterated the agency’s support for the project. While advancement to engineering isn’t a guarantee of funding, it is “the FTA’s way of saying you’ve got a great project that we want to fund,” Noland said.
The Double Track Northwest Indiana project is a partnership of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, representing Lake and Porter counties, and Michigan City and LaPorte County, South Bend and St. Joseph County and the Indiana Finance Authority.
“The Double Track project is critical to reducing commuting time to Chicago and activating the potential for transformational development in the region,” RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said. “Distance is measured in time, and the faster and more convenient we make it to commute from here, the greater the return on investment for the state and the taxpayers of northwest Indiana.”
The Double Track project spans 26 miles from Gary to Michigan City. It includes installation of a second mainline track, improvements at five stations, expansion of parking lots for over 1,300 new parking spaces and construction of nine new platforms. In Michigan City, the rail will be separated from the roadway and 21 at-grade crossings will be closed, improving safety and travel efficiency.
NICTD expects to more than double existing South Shore Line ridership with Double Track, and reduce travel times for all riders traveling east of Gary.
The South Shore's $816 million West Lake Corridor extension, an eight-mile line from Hammond to Dyer with four new stations, is also listed in the FTA's "Annual Report on Funding Recommendations,” giving NICTD two of six projects across the country in the engineering phase of the New Starts grant process. Another eight projects have full-funding grant agreements in place now.
Noland said the FTA looks at Double Track and West Lake as companion projects.
“They really, really like them from a mobility and a development standpoint,” he said. “It’s exactly what they’re trying to do across the country.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb said reduced travel times to Chicago will help "build economic competitiveness and attract talent."
“I’m grateful for our strong partnerships at the state, local, and federal levels that have positioned this transformative project to move forward and I couldn’t be more excited to take the next steps,” Holcomb said.
The state has committed $6 million per year for 30 years to the project, and last year added $185 million more to the Double Track and West Lake Corridor projects, with an additional $20 million in a contingency fund.
Federal legislators expressed their support for the project's advancement.
“I thank Gov. Holcomb, Senators (Todd) Young and (Mike) Braun, Rep. (Jackie) Walorski, our state legislators, and the public officials of LaPorte County, St. Joe County, and Michigan City,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary. “I am also grateful to Bill Hanna with the RDA and everyone at NICTD for having the vision and persistence to work hard and collaborate to help our region reach this milestone for the Double Track project. The project enhances the strength and efficiency of our entire public transportation system and further allows our regional economy to support the next generation of residents and workers.”
“The FTA’s approval of NICTD’s South Shore Double Track project into the engineering stage is an exciting step forward in the Capital Investment Grant process,” Young, R-Ind., said. “I will continue to work with all stakeholders to advance this project and achieve significant economic development in Northwest Indiana.”
“The Double Track Northwest Indiana Project is a win for Indiana and a big step forward for our public transportation system in the northwestern region,” said Braun, R-Ind. “Thanks to bipartisan work from every level of government by Rep. Visclosky, Gov. Holcomb, Sen. Young, Rep. Walorski, our great state legislators and local leaders in our northwestern counties, as well as support from the Federal Transit Administration, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the Indiana Finance Authority, this project will bring new investment, jobs, and growth to the region.”
“The South Shore Double Track project will make transportation more efficient and boost economic development in South Bend and across northern Indiana, and I’m thrilled to see it move to the next phase,” said Walorski, R-South Bend. “I look forward to continuing work with my Hoosier colleagues, Governor Holcomb, and the administration to make this investment in our region’s economic future a reality.”
NICTD recently began negotiations with a design-build team to construct West Lake, and hopes for a grant agreement with the FTA by late summer.
The railroad hopes to have the Double Track project at a point it can begin final grant negotiations late this year, with an agreement finalized in spring 2021.
That would put Double Track on schedule for completion in the summer or fall of 2023, Noland said, with a contingency schedule of spring 2024.
For more information on Double Track, visit the project website at www.doubletrack-nwi.com.