MICHIGAN CITY – As area resident Ed Merrion noted, “It’s progress. At some point, you have to do it.”
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District accepted comments Thursday on the proposed South Shore Line 25-mile double track of rail line between Gary and Michigan City. South Shore currently operates mostly on a single track that it shares with freight rail.
Mike Noland, South Shore Line president, said the project would remove a 25-mile “bottleneck” between Gary and Michigan City.
“This will give us more express service and more trains,” Noland said. “We’ll reduce travel time and have better on-time performance. In 20 years, we’ll double our ridership.”
According to district officials, the continuous second track would allow trains and passengers to continue to their destination without stops and delays for passing trains, maintenance work or other track issues.
South Shore officials estimate the project to cost $312 million, with half of that funded federally and the other half through state and local sources.
From comments received Thursday at Blue Chip Casino, people generally favored the project, but they also had questions.
“I’m not as positive as most people are,” said Michigan City resident Arnold Bos, citing two tracks along 11th Street over gravel. Bos also asked about closeness of the new track to area homes.
The proposal calls for the acquisition of nearly 115 business and residential parcels in Michigan City. Roseanne Parsley and Lorene Olmos would lose their longtime homes. “It’s bittersweet,” Olmos said, “but change has to come. It’s a challenge we’ll be willing to look at.”
“We need jobs,” Parsley added. “If Michigan City benefits, I think it will be a positive thing.”
The project calls for a larger Michigan City train station, which resident Les Heichel favors. “I like it, for the most part,” he said. “It benefits the Elston Groves Historical District” which borders the proposed new station.
The proposal schedule calls for environmental assessment and public hearings this year, finishing design and engineering plans in 2018, beginning construction in 2019, and concluding construction and beginning operation in 2020. Under the plan, the second track would generally run parallel to the existing track.
Rail officials said benefits to a second track include quicker travel times; increased service frequency, reliability, and safety; and an opportunity for private investment and economic development resulting from faster and more frequent train service.
“The people will want to live here,” Heichel noted. “They can hop on a train and go to work in Chicago or South Bend.”
There are several unsignalized, unprotected roadway crossings in Michigan City. Trains currently use embedded, street-running track in this area. Train speed in this area is 15-25 miles per hour, and safety is considered an issue for commuters, freight service, pedestrians, cyclists, and automobiles.
“It’s going to impact us, but it could be a good impact,” resident Marvin Guenther said. “Right now I’m getting some questions answered.”