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South Shore's Double Track project gets $50.6 million from feds
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South Shore's Double Track project gets $50.6 million from feds

Double Track rendering

This rendering shows potential upgrades to the South Shore Line at its Michigan City station on 11th Street. The Federal Transit Administration committed $50.6 million to the railroad's Double Track project Wednesday.

The Federal Transit Administration gave the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s Double Track project a $50.6 million vote of confidence Wednesday, announcing an allocation in that amount as an advance on a grant that would pay nearly 40% of the $460 million project’s cost.

Double Track would add a second set of tracks to the South Shore Line between Gary and Michigan City and upgrade stations along the route, adding capacity and speeding the trip to downtown Chicago.

South Shore President Michael Noland said he was “incredibly excited to get the call” about the funding from the FTA’s deputy administrator. The money is “FTA’s way of saying they want to fund the project. They’re in now.”

South Shore chooses West Lake design-build team

The funding is an advance on a New Starts grant in the FTA’s Capital Investment Grant program. The FTA’s deputy administrator, K. Jane Williams, announced it publicly in a video released Wednesday.

“This project will improve transportation options for Northwest Indiana residents traveling to downtown Chicago and surrounding areas, as well as to South Bend International Airport,” she said.

The project will include 16.9 miles of new track; four new bridges; nine new platforms at the Miller, Ogden Dunes, Dune Park, Beverly Shores and Michigan City 11th Street stations; more than 1,300 additional parking spaces; and shifting of the Michigan City tracks off the street and closure of 21 at-grade crossings in the city.

The project is currently in the grant program’s engineering phase, which it entered early this year. It's the final phase before a grant agreement and construction.

“Getting them to commit funding is just that next level,” Noland said.

He said Williams told him that the FTA wants to accelerate the project schedule. Currently, NICTD anticipates formally requesting a New Starts grant in the CIG program in March 2021, entering into a full-funding grant agreement with the FTA and starting construction in July 2021, and completing the project in 2023.

NICTD staff an consultants will work on tightening that schedule, Noland said.

“She is incredibly committed to seeing the Double Track project getting built,” he said of Williams.

While NICTD won’t spend federal money until achieving the full-funding grant agreement, “this gives us a nice leg up on our funding models,” Noland said.

South Shore double track project to bring significant changes to stations, crossings

The South Shore money is part of $400 million allocated Wednesday from the 2020 federal budget to four projects. The others are based in Phoenix, Kansas City and Hudson County, New Jersey.

“This $400 million federal investment will help ensure that critical updates can be made to our country’s public transit systems so they remain safe and operational,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

“This is a major step forward for a project that has been at the top of Northwest Indiana Hoosiers’ wish list for years and years, and a top Indiana infrastructure priority of mine” U.S. Sen. Todd Young said. “This down payment complements the tireless work local and state leaders have already done to see this game-changing project through.”

The commitment to Double Track follows a similar $100 million commitment in May to the South Shore's West Lake Corridor extension.

Bill Hanna, the president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, said the commitments now to both projects are "a bold statement by the FTA."

The RDA is acting as the local financial administrator for the projects, coordinating the regional and state funding commitments. The RDA is also managing the effort to bring transit-oriented development to the soon-to-be-created Transit Development Districts around the current and planned train stations.

"TDDs are really driven by private investment," Hanna said, "and that has to do with confidence."

With Wednesday's announcement, coupled with the West Lake announcement in May, "you get positive traction with developers, because the risk starts to become lower," he said. "I expect you'll start to see things speed up regarding TOD."

For more information on Double Track, visit doubletrack-nwi.com.

Gallery: 25 South Shore Line Excursions

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