Feds give thumbs-up to South Shore plan
CHESTERTON – The South Shore’s $300 million plan to run a second track between Michigan City and Gary, and significantly upgrade 11th Street and other stations, got a green light from the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration on Thursday issued a Finding of No Significant Impact based on its review of the Environmental Assessment for the Double Track NWI Project.
“This is a significant milestone for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District that gives them the green light to continue developing this regionally transformational project,” South Shore spokeswoman Nicole Barker said.
“The project will result in reduced travel time, more frequent train service, improved safety, and expanded connectivity between northwest Indiana and Chicago.”
The Double Track project will also provide NICTD the ability to add trains to meet the demands of growing ridership, she said.
“The team at NICTD has worked hard to minimize the project’s impact on the natural and human environment for the past two years,” Michael Noland, president of South Shore Line, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to reach this critically important milestone and advance the project in the Capital Investment Grant process.”
The DT-NWI Project plans to construct a second track between Virginia Street in Gary and Michigan Boulevard in Michigan City; realign the South Shore Line along 10th and 11th Streets in Michigan City; and close 21 grade crossings.
In Michigan City, about 1.9 miles of embedded, in-street tracks in the center of 11th Street will be removed from the roadway, and two tracks will be reconstructed in a separate, parallel right of way between Sheridan Avenue and just west of Michigan Boulevard.
It would also enhance the stations at 11th Street, Dune Park, Beverly Shores, Gary/Miller and Portage/Ogden Dunes, Barker said.
The 11th Street Station will be improved and expanded with two high-level boarding platforms and a new station building that will include a multi-level parking structure, a station waiting area, and gauntlet tracks. At Dune Park, a new low-level platform to the north and additional parking will be constructed.
It also includes a major improvements on Green Street, and a complete upgrade of the Amtrak crossing in Michigan City, with the existing crossing replaced with crossing diamonds for the two new South Shore tracks.
The original plan had included closing the Kentucky Street intersection at 11th, but city officials said that closure would eliminate the direct route that Public Works and emergency vehicles use to access the west side. The city requested an alternate route for these vehicles.
The closest and most reasonable east-west road to use was Green Street, between Kentucky and Chicago, just south of the Kentucky/11th intersection. NICTD modified the proposal to include improvements to Green Street with one 16-foot travel lane in each direction, curbs and gutters, and a 5-foot sidewalk on each side.
The Green/Chicago intersection will be improved to define the travel ways of the large angled intersection near the Amtrak crossing.
The Finding of No Significant Impact, signed by FTA Regional Administrator Kelley Brookins on Thursday, is the “environmental capstone decision-making document for the Project,” Barker said.
It outlines the determinations and findings of the environmental analysis in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and includes information about the selection and modification of the preferred alternative, analysis of impacts, environmental commitments, and responses to public comments.
It is available for review on the project website at doubletrack-nwi.com/docs and at NICTD’s offices at 33 E. U.S. 12 in Chesterton, adjacent to the Dune Park Station.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources identified several endangered or threatened plant species in the area of work for the proposed Double-Track NWI project. Some will be moved to other areas, and work will be tailored to have the least-possible impacts on all, according to the Finding of No Significant Impact.
Northern long-eared bat
Northern leopard frog
31 species including:
Kalm’s St. John’s-wort