Chesterton Tribune

NICTD gets proposal to combine two Gary stops in new $37.6 million station

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District officials took under advisement Friday a proposal to close both the downtown Gary Metro Center and Miller stations serving the South Shore commuter line, and to build a new $37.6 million NICTD station midway between them.

Christopher Murphy, vice-president of American Structurepoint Inc. of Indianapolis, said it could total $51.8 million to upgrade both the Gary Metro and Miller stations to current standards due to significant impediments at each site.

To accomodate a 750 foot-long, high-boarding platform at Miller alone, the neighborhood Gary station would have to be relocated to the west through acquisition of commercial properties in the area, and U.S. 12 would have to be realigned.

The new regional Gateway Station is proposed for a 6.53-acre triangular parcel northeast of the U.S. Highway 12/20 access ramp to the Indiana Toll Road (Interstate 90).

The station-consolidation plan is a much scaled-back version of the $120-million, 2008 concept pitched to NICTD by private developers that would have combined a new South Shore station with Gary redevelopment. That project was planned near Interstate 65 west of the Toll Road.

Miller commuters and community leaders at that time lobbied not to close their station, and NICTD directors rejected the developers' request.

NICTD’s own ADA-compliant Gateway Station would have a canopied high-level boarding platform. Initially about 1,100 parking spaces would be built for the 2,500 square-foot station and vendor area, said Murphy, but as ridership increases a parking garage likely would be needed as well to provide 1,880 total spaces at the site. No parking fee is anticipated.

Murphy said over 20 years having one regional station will reduce travel time by 4.5 minutes for South Shore passengers boarding/departing east of it, and attract 730 additional riders per day netting NICTD an estimated $18 million in new revenue.

NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas said the projected ridership increase would not require the purchase of additional train cars at today's passenger levels.

As now proposed, the Miller station would move about two miles to the west. It draws passengers from Portage, Hobart and Lake Station as well.

After the meeting NICTD director of marketing and planning John Parsons said he doesn't know whether the Gateway Station will be seen as an acceptable compromise by Miller riders. He also said he doesn’t believe closing the Gary Metro station, where $600,000 in NICTD improvements recently were completed, will hurt Gary's downtown because bus service would link it with the Gateway Station.

There's no timetable to make a decision on station consolidation, said Parsons. “We will get direction from the board. They never had this data before but they do now.”

In other business Friday:

•It was announced the catenary renewal project, began in 2006, has been completed between 115th Street in Chicago and Michigan City with marked improvement seen in traction-power reliability. The project cost $52.6 million, most federal funds. Replacing the 1940s-era overhead catenary from Michigan City to South Bend will cost about $23.5 million.

•URS Corp. of Chicago was hired for $245,254 to help NICTD develop strategies to comply with an unfunded federal mandate to implement positive train control by December, 2015. PTC will use GPS technology to track the position of trains and in theory eliminate the potential for human error.

•Accepted was the negotiated lone bid of Teleweld Inc. of Streator, IL at $122,475 --- less than half the engineer's estimate --- to upgrade South Shore signage and monitors at Millennium Station at Randolph Street.

•The $577,500 bid of current contract holder Performance Plus of Gary also came in lower than estimated for custodial services for a new five-year term.

•Ray Morehouse, NICTD manager of safety, commended the heroic response of two railroad employees, who will receive gift certificates. John Higgenbotham performed CPR on a man found not breathing on a Millennium Station platform; the man survived. Pat Fulford helped attend to and quickly get medical treatment for another worker whose knife had slipped causing an arterial bleed.

•Metra in Illinois has proposed to boost monthly 2012 ticket prices including parking fees from $134.10 to $165.50 at its Hegewisch station that is served exclusively by NICTD. Parsons said staff likely will propose a fare increase at NICTD's nearby Hammond and East Chicago stations, where a monthly pass now is $147.85 and Hegewisch passengers are anticipated to flock.

•NICTD board member Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs said he'll look into Town of Pines resident Anne Prokuski's renewed request to have several trees on NICTD property cut down near her home. Hanas said an arborist determined high-risk trees should be removed but not all, although some may be limbed.

•Parsons said South Shore ridership through August is down 2.7 percent to 2,462,057 approaching a 600,000-passenger loss over the record 2007 total. Encouraging though, he noted, are more than 2-percent jumps in average peak and weekend/holiday travel, and a 1.3 percent hike in revenue following a fare increase in June.

Posted 10/3/2011