Chesterton Tribune

 
 

NICTD accepts bid for Dunes Station platform; state to study board makeup

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The long awaited construction of a high-level boarding platform at the South Shore’s Dune Park Station took a major step forward Friday as the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District board awarded the project to Larson-Danielson Construction Company of Michigan City.

Larson-Danielson was the lowest of six bids. The approved cost is $2,730,545 which is 4.8 percent lower than the engineer’s estimate, said NICTD Purchasing Manager Randy Welch. The second lowest bid came from Garriup Construction of Gary for $2,734,700, also below the estimate.

NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas last month said that the district has reserved $2 million in federal capital funds for construction.

As planned, the construction of the 800-foot long platform is to be “substantially completed” by November.

The motion to accept the bid carried with it notice for Hanas to proceed at his discretion. The first phase of work to construct a new entrance on the east end with the ramp and warming center should “see some activity” in May.

“We’re very pleased it’s moving forward,” Hanas said.

The second phase will be the ramps on the west end of the station followed by adding a walkway from the veranda of the passenger station to the platform for a total of three access points to the platform. There will be a break in the slope for wheelchairs as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Having the high-level platform could shorten train stop time to 30 seconds, Hanas said, which is still enough time to get passengers aboard.

The design is similar to Hegewisch Station and all galvanized steel will be used to prevent rusting, Hanas said.

With construction being divvied up, Hanas said there will be no shutdowns during the work.

“We think this will work well. The station will always be accessible,” he said.

Welch commented that Larson-Danielson has provided “excellence in the past with the district.”

At the start of the meeting, Hanas updated the board as to the status of Indiana House Bill 1450 authored by State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, which would replace county government and gubernatorial representatives with mayoral appointees, instituting a stronger Lake County presence on the board.

Board members like Mark Catanzarie from St. Joseph expressed concern that the NICTD would not be able to move forward with future projects not knowing what the future had in store.

Since the last meeting, Hanas said the House Roads and Transportation Committee has decided against putting the bill up for a vote and instead has ordered that a study of the NICTD board and its operations be done this summer.

Depending on the outcome of the study, it is possible that legislation may be introduced next year, Hanas said.

RDA to work on business plan

Meanwhile, another initiative moved ahead as the board agreed to a resolution with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to develop a strategic business plan for NITCD.

The two entities formed a group late last summer to determine the scope of the study which will look at projects for the next five to 20 years, including ways to make travel quicker and the construction of a West Lake Corridor with proposed extensions to Valparaiso and Lowell.

RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said one of the five tiers of the RDA is to expand the capacity of the South Shore line.

“This is one of the most successful assets we’ve had in for decades and decades in Northwest Indiana,” said Hanna.

According to the resolution, URS Corporation of Chicago will be paid up to $550,000 to prepare the plan. Both NICTD and the RDA will share the consulting costs equally, the resolution said.

Five companies submitted bids for the plan which is to be completed in a year’s time.

Hanna said there should be revenue put towards the projects as the South Shore will continue to be an asset for generations to come. There are plenty of opportunities for economic growth between here and Chicago, he added.

“The potential we have to make revenue in this state is almost unlimited,” he said.

Marketing to be revamped

In another matter, NICTD marketing director John Parsons laid out plans for a new 12-month marketing approach.

The plan will be more advantageous in that it will be a more sustained program than past “narrowly focused projects” that lasted from 4-8 months.

Under Parsons’ recommendation, the board approved to contract with AC Incorporated of Valparaiso not to exceed more than $135,000 for making user-friendly enhancements to the website and build a stronger social media presence with the option of renewing for an additional two years.

Parsons said the new program will bridge efforts between the traditional NICTD site and the more interactive site www.mysouthshoreline.com, launched in 2010.

Businesses and destinations from around Chicago have stepped up to help the effort by donating packages to South Shore riders who use the website. Passengers can win tickets to the Shed Aquarium, restaurants and hotels in Chicago.

AC Inc. will conduct an on board survey of passengers in April.

In addition, the consultant will help promote “staycations” or events to do around Chicago, utilize more billboard and radio promotions rather than print, and build a brand strategy in Northwest Indiana and Southeast Michigan.

Parsons said NICTD plans to develop its own smartphone app for passengers to receive alerts of train times and possible delays.

In a related note, NICTD this week will begin a $6,000 pilot project with govdelivery.org which would deliver e-mails or texts to customers on a particular train schedule segment. The pilot program’s interface and message quality will be tested internally by NICTD staff.

Also discussed was the concept of implementing a Ventra Card system like the Chicago RTA where passengers can pay for train fare on their smartphones or other electronic devices.

Ridership

The number of South Shore passengers for February reached 542,439 which is 5.8 percent less than February 2012, Parsons said, but it was enough to top 2011’s tally by 1.5 percent.

Parsons said he believes the colder temperatures are a probable reason ridership has been trending downward. Average weekend ridership is down 5.6 percent from last year.

The lesser volume of riders has however improved trains’ on time performance which was 91.3 percent this February for the weekday compared to 88.2 percent last year.

Parsons said there are number of sport events in Chicago that could pick up the slump. April 1 is opening day for the Chicago White Sox and April 8 is the Chicago Cub’s opening with ten home games over 11 days. Crosstown Classic games have been scheduled for May 27-30, Parsons said.

Other purchases

The board on Friday granted several purchase requests made by NICTD staff.

Approved was this year’s purchase of several thousand cross ties, switch ties and pre-plated ties from Stella Jones Corporation in Pittsburgh for $356,113. A high rail bucket truck from Truck City in Gary was approved for $156,076.

Two purchases will be made from Aspen Equipment of Canton, Ohio. A section crew truck for $166,138 and a welding truck for $165,849.

 

 

Posted 3/25/2013