Chesterton Tribune

 
 

New Dune Park station platform coming; lawmakers threaten NICTD board shakeup

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Calling it a fairly extensive construction project, South Shore railroad officials estimate a November completion for this year’s planned construction of a high-boarding platform at Porter County’s Dune Park Station.

Bids will be presented to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District in March, said NICTD general manager Gerald Hanas. The district has reserved $2 million in federal capital funds for the project.

High-boarding platforms allow faster boarding because all train doors open, steps are eliminated and access to trains by the disabled is easier.

Dune Park’s veranda will be extended north to the canopied, heated platform preserving the historic Insull architectural style of the original 1985 station. The 800 foot-long platform will include a new entrance on its east end with warming shelters and ramps. New walkways will be added and Dune Park’s traffic flow will be revamped to allow two-way traffic on the currently one-way eastern entrance off U.S. 12.

At Friday’s NICTD meeting, Hanas said it’s anticpated there will be minor inconvenience during construction for Dune Park passengers but nothing too disruptive.

The platform will be similar to the one built at the Hegewisch Station. Hanas said Dune Park has significant ridership for not having raised boarding until now.

NICTD board shake-up?

NICTD board members expressed surprise and opposition to House Bill 1450 filed in the Indiana General Assembly that would dump NICTD’s County Council representatives from Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties in favor of city mayors, four from Lake County.

The bill has been assigned to the Roads and Transportation Committee. Portage and Valparaiso mayors would have seats on the new board representing Porter County.

While one representative of each County Board of Commissioners would remain, NICTD board members appointed by the governor representing passengers and the South Shore’s labor unions would be dropped.

Another point of contention is that under the reorganization, a member may designate an alternate member to represent and act for the member in his/her absence.

HB 1450 is sponsored by District 12 Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster. She was quoted in The Times of Northwest Indiana saying she filed the bill in part over the slow pace of NICTD’s proposed South Shore extension in Lake County known as Westlake, and to better represent where South Shore ridership is heaviest.

In addition to bringing commuter trains into south Lake County, Westlake could include a second alignment through Merrillville and Hobart to Valparaiso. A stumbling block has been the $600 million to $900 million project cost, and assuring a continuing source of funds to operate Westlake trains as well as the current 90-mile Chicago to South Bend railroad.

St. Joseph County Councilman Mark Catanzarite said County Councils have been a part of the NICTD board for 35 years. HB 1450 would devalue counties and benefit others, he predicted, adding it was poor public policy the way HB 1450 surfaced without input from NICTD. South Bend would have St. Joseph County’s only mayoral seat under the bill.

Porter County Commission member John Evans said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Make it better, but this bill doesn’t.”

He noted mayors have their hands full and if an alternate can be seated on the board in their place, there’s a danger of getting someone “who wants to make a name for themselves and show they’re somebody".

Lake County Council member Christine Cid and Lake County Commissioner Michael Repay both criticized the bill. “I don’t think there’s been any prejudice against one county or another” under the current board make-up, said Cid.

Repay said the board representation works and should be left as is. Under a new board Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Hobart would have mayoral seats.

Porter County Council member Sylvia Graham said knowing what she does about HB 1450, “I would not be able to support it.”

LaPorte County Council member Mark Yagelski, who was elected 2013 NICTD chairman, said, “I know there are boards that are troublesome; we are not one of them.” Michigan City and LaPorte stand to gain mayoral seats if HB 1450 becomes law.

Catanzarite said the district can’t move forward with a proposed strategic business plan for future expansion of South Shore assets and facilities not knowing the board’s future. NICTD and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority had planned to partner in the $500,000 study.

Ridership survey coming

By unanimous vote the Blackstone Group of Chicago was hired at a cost not to exceed $115,500 to conduct an updated ridership survey this spring. Blackstone hopes to circulate 9,000 surveys in person and online, and NICTD will have input on which questions to ask.

NICTD marketing director John Parsons said South Shore passengers last were surveyed in 2004. Sought is information about who’s riding what trains and where, how they get to their stations and employment, what tickets they purchase, and the quality of rail service.

Parsons said questions about the jobs South Shore ridership enables passengers to have, and the value of the wages returned here, will be important responses to have.

South Shore 2012 ridership of 3,668,098 was down 1 percent over 2011. The highest increase last year at 5.6 percent was out of the South Bend Regional Airport followed by a 2.6 percent weekend ridership jump. Weekday and peak ridership both were down by 1.7 percent and off-peak ridership by 1.5 percent.

Passenger revenue rose 5.6 percent in 2012 to $19.5 million thanks in part to a 5 percent fare increase.

In other business, the NICTD board:

• Accepted the $263,620 bid of Racine Railroad Products of Wisconsin to purchase an anchor spreader and squeezer to help replace ties and rail anchors more safely and efficiently; the work currently is done manually.

• Accepted the $189,831 bid of Nordco Inc. of Wisconsin for a spike puller that cuts in half the time needed to do the work.

• Accepted the $1,199,528 bid of Ellas Construction of Gary to replace a failing bridge over Trail Creek in LaPorte County east of the South Shore shops. Replacement is slated for September.

• Accepted the recommendation to hire Knorr Brake Corp. of Westminster MD for $345,033 to perform maintenance on the South Shore’s double-decker passenger cars.

 

Posted 1/28/2013