The West Lake Corridor Project would be an approximate 9-mile southern extension of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s (NICTD) existing South Shore Line (SSL) between Dyer and Hammond, Indiana. Trains on the new branch line would connect with the existing SSL and ultimately Metra Electric District’s (MED) line to the north. The proposed project would provide new transit service between Dyer, Indiana and Metra’s Millennium Station in Downtown Chicago, Illinois, a total distance of approximately 29 miles.
The current study involves the environmental review process for the West Lake Corridor Project in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Specifically, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was prepared for the Project, with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as the Federal Lead Agency and NICTD as the Local Project Sponsor responsible for implementing the Project.
The EIS involves a greater level of analysis of the project, including potential design options, ridership, costs, social and environmental resources, and other considerations than have been conducted to date. This will allow for more informed decisions about such project elements as the transit mode, route alignment, station locations, and other infrastructure improvements. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was available for review through February 3, 2017 by the public and agencies. FTA and NICTD are preparing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which identifies the Preferred Alternative.
NICTD will then develop an application to enter the FTA New Starts program to receive a project rating, which would be used as the basis for determining federal funding.
Comments on the DEIS were collected during the formal comment period from December 16, 2016 through February 3, 2017. The DEIS Comment Period is now closed. Formal responses to comments to be posted as part of the Final EIS in early 2018.
Current estimate for the project, with the addition of the Gateway Station in North Hammond, is $665.3M. Capital costs will be updated as the project and design are further refined.
When the proposed West Lake Corridor Project is fully advanced through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts process, it is anticipated that the New Starts program will provide approximately 50 percent of the Project’s capital cost. The non-New Starts costs will be covered by a combination of funding sources, including funding from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the State of Indiana, and local communities.
As a recipient of federal funding (e.g., federal fuel tax funds), the West Lake Corridor project must comply with several federal laws and regulations before it can be implemented, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance. NICTD is required to have an FTA-approved Title VI Program in place to receive federal funding. Capital funds to NICTD to provide a West Lake extension of commuter rail service require that NICTD provide service equitably along the corridor to “ensure that the level and quality of public transportation service is provided in a nondiscriminatory manner” (FTA Circular 4702.1B). The Environmental Impact Statement will include an evaluation of any potential disproportionate impacts to minority or low-income persons in the corridor, and show that the project would not exclude those protected by Title VI from the benefits of the new rail service. In addition, the project must include a Title VI analysis for the siting of the operations and maintenance facilities to ensure that the site-specific impacts are not disparately borne by those protected under Title VI.
In order to construct, operate, and maintain the proposed West Lake Corridor Project, it will be necessary for NICTD to acquire private property. When property is identified to be acquired, other avoidance and minimization measures will have been considered. That property will have been determined to be the best location for the West Lake Corridor Project to serve the public. As a result, it may be necessary for NICTD to acquire properties for the West Lake Corridor Project.
Local, state, and federal regulations and laws govern the acquisition of private property for public use. These laws ensure that owners of property acquired for public projects are treated fairly and consistently. They are designed to encourage and expedite acquisition by agreements with property owners, to minimize litigation and relieve congestion in the courts, and to promote public confidence in land acquisition programs designed to benefit the public as a whole.
The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Polices Act of 1970 provides for uniform and equitable treatment of persons displaced from their homes, businesses, or farms by federal and federally-assisted programs, and establishes uniform and equitable land acquisition policies. Federal regulations implementing the Uniform Act (49 CFR Part 24) establish the process that must be followed.
NICTD will begin negotiations of properties in 2018.
Studies of commuter rail projects around the country have shown a positive impact on properties within 1/4- to 1-mile of a rail station. The relative increase in accessibility provided by the new transit investment is the primary factor in increasing property values.
The following are the key milestones and schedule for the environmental review process, as well as the overall project:
This schedule reflects the standard process for NEPA review and FTA’s New Starts funding program, but dates are subject to change.
The public and agencies are encouraged to comment on the Project and participate in the public involvement process. The project website has an online comment section to receive comments and questions, and various project documents are available online.
Public meetings and hearings have been held for the project. Visit the Resources page to review past meeting materials. Other individual stakeholder meetings and other meetings were also convened during the course of the study. Each previous meeting provided the opportunity to provide input on the project. Two rounds of public and agency review were conducted during the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) phase and a final round of hearings were held scheduled in early 2017.
The public and agency engagement provide opportunities for input throughout the NEPA environmental review process. Visit the Contact page to provide ongoing input into the project.
The DEIS can be reviewed on the Resources page. A list of public libraries that have copies of the DEIS can be found on the Resources page as well.
To present the results of the DEIS, and to solicit public comments, NICTD and FTA held three open house format public hearings:
To review materials presented during the hearings, visit the Resources page.
Preliminary plans include two stations in Hammond (Hammond Gateway and South Hammond), one station in Munster at Ridge Road, and one station at Munster/Dyer Main Street. Station locations are shown on the Maps page.
Combined maintenance and storage facilities were considered in Hammond near 173rd Street and at Main Street near the Munster/Dyer border. Preliminary plans include a new combined facility in north Hammond to take advantage of shared facilities and central location.
Electric powered trains using overhead wires, the same as is used on the South Shore Line.
The new track and bridges proposed for the West Lake Corridor service have been designed exclusively for passenger rail service.
Each proposed station concept design includes a parking lot and a pick-up/drop-off area. NICTD will work with the host community in later phases of the project to determine how parking operations will be handled for each station. It is possible the operation and maintenance will be the responsibility of the host community. Under this scenario, it is possible that a parking fee would be assessed. Host communities will be offered the opportunity to be fully engaged in the design of parking and station facilities.
Yes, bikes will be permitted on the trains.
The construction of the project will have short term effects during construction. Construction activities can temporarily affect access to businesses or require detours to traffic. Some construction noise and other inconveniences can be expected adjacent to the alignment. Information regarding construction staging and short-term effects would be communicated with the public.
The West Lake Corridor Project alternative alignments cross or are in close proximity to several trails including the Monon Trail, Erie Lackawanna Trail, and the Pennsy Greenway. The existing Monon and Erie Lackawanna Trails will be retained, but may be relocated within their existing corridors. The Pennsy Greenway is unfinished where the alternatives are proposed to cross it. However, the proposed design would allow space for future trail development.
The DEIS identified potential noise and vibration effects of the project to sensitive land uses; those effects were based on information that was available. During the FEIS phase, additional noise and vibration analyses will be performed to refine estimates of potential project-related noise and vibration effects to sensitive land uses. The major sources of noise from electric commuter trains are the wheel-rail interaction, and train horn or audible warning system use at public at-grade crossings. These will be evaluated for impacts and commitments to appropriate mitigation measures will be made.
Also during the FEIS, design development will take place and will be used to perform a refined vibration assessment. The major sources of vibration from commuter trains are at rail joints and switches. Train-induced ground-borne vibration that is detectable is considered an impact, and where vibration levels of that magnitude are projected to occur, commitments to appropriate mitigation measures will be made.
"Talent retention and attraction are critically important to the growth of the Northwest Indiana economy. Now is the time for us to start expanding access to amenities that commuter rail offers."
President/CEO, Northwest Indiana Forum