Try 1 month for 99¢

DYER | The South Shore commuter railroad extension from Hammond to Dyer took more realistic form for town officials and residents who gathered Thursday evening for a presentation by Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District officials.

NICTD is exploring a variety of options for stations, maintenance facilities and related infrastructure along the 9-mile route. The presentation included a rendering and diagrams of the extension's potential impact at the Dyer-Munster line where Main Street ends at Columbia-Sheffield.

There are two possibilities for the line's Dyer-Munster terminus: one includes a "layover yard" with the station, the other adds a full maintenance facility.

All options are being included in a draft environmental impact statement being prepared now.

"We want to environmentally clear as much as possible," said Paulette Vander Kamp, a NICTD consultant who led the presentation. "This is a very conceptual design level."

The layover yard would be south of an extended Main Street, and would include a building and parking lot. The yard would be used for overnight parking of trains, along with interior cleaning and light maintenance work.

The station itself would be north of Main, at the track-side edge of a parking lot of up to 1,200 spaces. The lot would extend north to Lucy Lane, remaining west of Megan Way, according to the NICTD graphic.

The second option has a significantly larger footprint. The maintenance yard would straddle Main Street, taking up much of the triangle formed by Sheffield Avenue, the railroad tracks and an extended Main Street. The tracks from the maintenance yard would extend north of Main before merging into a single track near Lucy Lane.

That would shift the station and parking lot north, with the lot extending up to Hartsfield Village retirement community in Munster.

The amount of private property NICTD will need to buy will only be known once a final plan is established. 

"The reality is, at some point there will be some property taking," NICTD General Manager Michael Noland acknowledged.

Audience members peppered the NICTD representatives with questions regarding the extent of the physical infrastructure, increased traffic and the impact on the community and property values.

"We don't want a maintenance facility," Councilwoman Debbie Astor, R-5th, said, echoing the opinion of several residents concerned about the impact on the community.

"To do this railroad line extension, we need to do a maintenance facility somewhere that works for the railroad," Noland said.

Two sites in Hammond are also under consideration for the maintenance facility. 

"Some people will want it in one place, some in another," Noland said. "We have to clear multiple options (environmentally)."

The station itself will bring economic activity, an increased demand for housing, and a subsequent increase in property values, he argued.

"It is my experience that a commuter rail station is a tremendous asset to a community," Noland said. 

He said NICTD would need to work with local communities regarding traffic, lighting of the facilities, and management of the surrounding areas. 

Once operational, 12 trains would travel on the West Lake Corridor each weekday, six heading into Chicago in the morning hours and six returning in the afternoon and evening. Four stations would serve the line: two in Hammond, one in Munster and one at the Munster-Dyer line.

The Munster station likely would be at Ridge Road and Manor Street, with another option near 45th and Fisher streets.

If the Ridge Road location is chosen, the station and parking would be on the east side of Manor if it's south of Ridge, and on the west side of Manor if it's north of Ridge.

The federal government and local sources will split the $571 million cost of the project. The Indiana General Assembly approved a funding package earlier this year, and a number of communities have pledged to add to the local contribution.

NICTD is anticipating 5,600 passengers on the new line daily, about half of them existing riders who shift from existing stations.

The draft environmental impact statement will be the subject of a public hearing in November. NICTD's schedule shows project development beginning in 2016, engineering in 2018, and construction in 2020. The rail line would be ready for use at the start of 2023, according to the plan.