Northwest Indiana RDA helps keep East Chicago Transit District Development on track

Northwest Indiana RDA helps keep East Chicago Transit District Development on track

East Chicago is poised for development in the areas in and around the South Shore train line, according to Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) officials. The station is located at 5615 Indianapolis Boulevard in East Chicago and serves the South Shore Line commuter rail line from Chicago to South Bend.

Transit Development Districts (TDDs) are created by the RDA redirect funds generated to support public infrastructure (like sewers, sidewalks and lighting) and development projects. TDDs have the potential to catalyze significant growth across the Region. The boundary is formed by an analysis process that includes community-wide input, best practices and market analysis.

“These districts aim to accelerate development and support public infrastructure investment around commuter rail stations in Northwest Indiana,” said RDA President and CEO Sherri Ziller. “We are already seeing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of projects get underway in Hammond and Michigan City that are directly related to the West Lake and Double Track projects, and in the coming decades, we expect billions more in development. This means thousands of new jobs in the Region as well as vastly better access to high-paying careers in Chicago.”

Last September, the Indiana State Budget Committee approved seven TDDs in Northwest Indiana. The goal for these districts, the first of their kind in the state, is to help drive new jobs, investment and opportunities along the Region’s commuter rail lines. Besides the East Chicago station, other districts approved for the funding include those around the Gateway Station in Hammond, the Miller station in Gary, Portage/Ogden Dunes Station and the 11th Street Station in Michigan City.

Debbra Gritters, director of Planning and Economic Development for the City of East Chicago, said the hope for the proposed East Chicago TDD is to create an environment of renewed vibrancy, one that feeds the entrepreneurial spirit while meeting the needs of the city's diverse population.

“Previous TDDs were viewed more as a means of supporting compartment neighborhoods instead of the city as a whole,” Gritters said. “This TDD aims to solidify the city with each neighborhood by removing invisible barriers and reimagining use and connectivity through visceral arteries such as Indianapolis Boulevard and Chicago Avenue that connect each neighborhood. The inclusion of the Roxana transit node helps to achieve this vision for residents and local small businesses through better engagement with global markets and educational institutions. This, in turn, has the potential to create higher incomes while striving for environmental wellness and community placemaking.”

In 2005, the East Chicago station was remodeled with high level platforms to assist passengers with disabilities and to decrease station dwell times. East Chicago's facility consists of a single high-level island platform situated between two gauntlet tracks which permits the passage of freight trains. The northern track provides service to Chicago while the southern track services Michigan City and South Bend.

At this location, the South Shore Line is situated on an embankment and the platform traverses Indianapolis Boulevard. The station building is located east of Indianapolis Boulevard at ground level. The station is equipped with ticket vending machines; staffed service ended in 2017. Adjacent to the station is a parking lot with capacity for 1,200 cars. Three lines offer bus connections.

“The East Chicago station is all ready to go,” said David Wellman, director of communications, Northwest Indiana RDA. “While improvements still need to be made to several other stations, such as the high-level boarding platforms that will allow the middle doors of train cars to be used as well as the ones at either end (to enable speed loading and unloading of passengers), these improvements were already made a couple decades ago in East Chicago.”

Boundaries of the East Chicago TDD total approximately 293.4 acres. The northernmost point is at W. Columbus Drive and Indianapolis Boulevard. Boundary to the south is at Indianapolis Boulevard and Carroll Street. The westernmost point is where Carroll Street meets White Oak Avenue. To the east, it is the intersection of Chicago and Parrish Avenues. These parameters offer some distinct development advantages.

“East Chicago is already the busiest station on the South Shore line,” said Wellman. “It offers a combination of excellent access for commuters and fast travel time to and from downtown Chicago. The city has invested heavily, tens of millions of dollars, in its shoreline, marina and the North Harbor area, demonstrating the kind of transformational changes East Chicago is capable of making. Having even more trains running more often once the Double Track project is complete will only make the station area more appealing. The TDD has been created, in full partnership with the city, to transform parts of Indianapolis Boulevard, Railroad Avenue and Chicago Avenue. There is a huge opportunity now for developers and businesses to get in on the ground floor.”

The RDA is now reaching out to generate interest among developers to come in and complete projects in the designated areas, developers who are already familiar with the area, as well as developers who are outside of Northwest Indiana.

“As is the case with all the TDDs, there are a lot of different kinds of development that would fit,” said Wellman. “Opportunities around the East Chicago station area consist of a mix of possible uses at low- to medium-densities within the Roxana neighborhood west of the station. North of the Grand Calumet River, several industrial sites have potential for redevelopment to support dense, high-quality housing. Streetscape and traffic improvements along Indianapolis Boulevard could be made to enhance connectivity and walkability to the station from neighborhoods north of the river. Likewise, improvements to the Roxana neighborhood could strengthen commercial opportunities along Indianapolis Boulevard and create safe connections to the station across Indianapolis Boulevard.”

Since the TDDs were only finalized last year, they are only starting to generate the incremental revenue that the RDA can use to help fund projects. But, the RDA is already seeing projects in a couple of communities, specifically Hammond and Michigan City. They expect to see even more all along the existing rail line and in the new West Lake Corridor sooner rather than later.

“In East Chicago, however, as far as development and improvements, there are other things we may be able to do in the meantime,” Wellman said.For more information about the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, visit the website here.