The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority’s (RDA), which aims, in partnership with the South Shore Line, to further connect Northwest Indiana with Chicago through expansion of the South Shore Line rail from Hammond to Dyer, became one step closer to reality today as community leaders and members responsible for turning the RDA’s vision into transforming the Region were taken on a bus tour to see the locations plotted for the new southern stops.
While the West Lake Corridor Project is certainly one of the biggest undertakings in Northwest Indiana and still has many steps to go to come fruition, the RDA’s Bill Hanna told IIMM that these types of challenges are exactly why the RDA exists.
“When the RDA was put together, it was not just to do a series of projects,” Hanna said. “We were put together to transform Northwest Indiana.”
And transforming Northwest Indiana and its future, says South Shore Line’s Michael Noland, is all about connecting Chicago and The Region.
“Expanding economic opportunities for Northwest Indiana is directly linked to enhancing access to Chicago,” stated Nolan. “This project provides that unique opportunity.”
American Structurepoint’s Chris Murphy, was assigned the task of determining just how much of an impact an expansion like this would make on the community and its impact on the Northwest Indiana economy in the coming years.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the future of these communities: Hammond, Munster, and Dyer,” said Murphy. “We want to figure out the positive impact this project could have on the communities and how they can best take advantage of this opportunity and this improvement that they are all going to share in.”
The proposed lots for the future stations, with the Hammond Gateway that would connect the East/West bound South Shore Line with the North/South line stopping in South Hammond, Munster at Ridge Road, and the Munster/Dyer border, each had their own unique desire for the future to them.
Yet, one thing remained clear throughout the tour: While connecting the Region with Chicago is the overlying goal, it must only be achieved through also building and connecting the new stops with the communities in which they are built.
“With such a big project there are always concerns,” stated Hammond City Planner, Brian Poland. “But my biggest focus has always been making sure that this project balances with the neighborhood it will go up in.”
Farr Associates out of Chicago were hired to further help each community build in accordance with the theme of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), or sustainable building which connects commuters and communities with the transit lines.
“First and foremost is making sure you’re thinking about the overall picture, and not just the immediate station,” said Kareeshma Ali of Farr. “With a project like this we want to help build not only the economic and commercial needs, but make sure that the needs of the commuters and those who live around here are met as well.”
Meaning, making sure that as transportation in Northwest Indiana grows with the Westlake Corridor Project, so to do the communities.
Phase 1 of work is slated to begin in Hammond in mid-2017 with plans of project start up in 2023. And while there are still steps that need to be taken, Munster Town Manager, Dustin Anderson, put it best when it came to the optimism for the start up date.
“We want a vibrant, durable, pedestrian-centric project. We’re all outcomes based.”