“Economic development used to mean how many jobs did you create in a year,” said Patrick Lyp, Valparaiso’s director of economic development. “But here, our focus is on quality of place. Since a quality city means different things to different people, our government uses a multifaceted approach to create what we believe is the best city in Northwest Indiana.”
Considering that the population of the city that translates to Vale of Paradise has grown 18 percent since 2000 — to more than 33,000 plus — most would agree with that approach.
Early in Valpo’s renaissance, officials determined that transportation options would be imperative to defining the city as a destination for families, commuters, and pedestrians. That’s resulted in one of the most innovative transportation hubs in Northwest Indiana.
In 2018, more than 108,000 riders used the V-Line, Valpo’s intracity bus line. More than 63,000 used Chicago Dash for the year.
A city initiative, the four buses operated by Chicago Dash carry up to 212 commuters to Chicago daily, with pick up and drop off points in the Loop. “The Dash and the V-Line have both been a huge success,” City Planner Tyler Kent said. “Now we’re going to expand that concept by partnering with the South Shore.”
This summer, Valparaiso will make over two city buses and create a new commuter ride to the Dune Park South Shore station. With one ticket, commuters can jump on the bus and ride the South Shore to the Loop or east. “We’re working to get our buses on the South Shore app,” Kent said. “Riders can make one purchase and go to Chicago or to South Bend.”
When it comes to moving information, there's ValpoNet, the city’s optic fiber initiative. “We now have 26 miles of underground fiber,” Lyp said. “We’re currently working with three Internet Service Providers to develop connectivity plans so that our residents can obtain high quality internet speeds in their communities.”
A new roundabout is under construction at the intersection of LaPorte Avenue and Silhavy Road. “We’re transforming the intersection in five phases so that we never shut down traffic,” explained Adam McAlpine, city engineer. “This new roundabout will provide increased efficiency and safety for drivers.”
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Another roundabout is planned for State Road 2 and Heavilin Road, a change necessitated by the opening of the new elementary school. “It’s a state project, because SR 2 is a state road,” McAlpine said. “We support it.”
McAlpine explained this is a safety move with left turns eliminated and traffic needing to slow to handle the roundabout curves. “That’s especially important so close to an elementary school, where kids and buses move daily,” he said. The speed limit on SR 2 is 45 m.p.h. in that area, which will decline with the construction of the roundabout.
Slated for completion in fall, left turn lanes will be added to the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 30 and Washington Street to ease traffic congestion. And 10 miles of city streets will be repaved the next several months.
Maggie Clifton came on board as director of Community Engagement with a vision to maintain and expand Valparaiso’s small-town charm. One of her major projects is the annual Neighborhood Grants.
“Last year we approved eight projects that help beautify the neighborhoods and bring people closer together,” she said. “Those projects, such as pouring a sidewalk, installing community signage, and creating a neighborhood greenspace improve the aesthetics of communities.”
This year, $100,000 is available for neighborhood projects with applications accepted through summer.
Renovating existing schools has been an ongoing project for years. The intention is to keep Valpo schools connected to their neighborhood, according to Kent. “We want to keep our schools within walking distance, especially the elementary and middle schools,” he said. “It fosters a sense of community that’s important to our residents.”
Another community initiative is helping eliminate houses that have fallen into disrepair. In 2018, the city purchased a house ravaged by fire and tore it down. The city sold the lot to a family who is rebuilding on the site. “That’s what we want to do to help keep our neighborhoods strong,” Clifton said. Other struggling homes are being evaluated.
New development is everywhere, with 12 communities under construction. Those include upscale apartments, condominiums, and single-family homes. “Living space is in great demand in Valparaiso,” Lyp said.