On Friday, July 20, 2018, the Board of Trustees of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), operator of the South Shore Line, voted to approve a tri-party agreement to advance the Double Track Northwest Indiana (DT-NWI) project.
NICTD has nearly completed the documentation required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with its federal partner, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), under the Capital Investment Grant program.
A critical outstanding item was reaching an agreement with NICTD, the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad (CSS), and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) pertaining to the Bailly segment of track near the east entrance of ArcelorMittal on US 12. This section of track is bounded by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on one side and NIPSCO’s Bailly Generating Station on the other. “This section of railroad, which is shared by NICTD and our freight partner [CSS], is tightly constrained,” according to Mike Noland, President of the South Shore Line. “We needed to build our second track while avoiding any impact to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and we could not have done it without the cooperation of CSS and NIPSCO,” he added.
The tri-party agreement involves an easement, some land acquisition, and the exchange of trackage. Each party – NICTD, CSS, and NIPSCO – worked to make the deal happen because they each understand the benefits to the region once the
Double Track NWI project is realized. The agreement also saves money, reducing the overall project cost by approximately $3 million. According to Nicole Barker, NICTD’s environmental lead, the deal also reduces the project’s overall wetland impacts even further. “NICTD, CSS and NIPSCO understand the sensitivity of the landscape we operate within, and are proud to finalize this agreement to advance the project while doing all we can to protect natural resources,” said Barker.
Chicago South Bend & South Shore Railroad, which had written a letter to the Federal Transit Administration outlining their objections to the previous design at the Bailly section during the Environmental Assessment public comment period in 2017, have formally retracted their objections as a result of the tri-party agreement. CSS President, Todd Bjornstad, stated, “The parties worked cooperatively to address the safety and operations concerns raised by CSS in its filing to FTA. We appreciate the efforts of NICTD and NIPSCO to facilitate a design that addresses the needs of all the stakeholders, including the public, in this project.”
“We recognize the significance and long-term regional benefits tied to this investment and we were pleased to play a role in identifying a solution that will help this project continue moving forward in the right direction,” added NIPSCO president, Violet Sistovaris.
The next step for the project is to work with the FTA to secure what is called a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which will be published once finalized for the public to review. For more information about the Double Track NWI project, go to www.doubletrack-nwi.com.
The South Shore Line is a commuter rail line operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) between Millennium Station in downtown Chicago and the South Bend International Airport in South Bend, Indiana.