New fed budget funding keeps South Shore projects chugging along

Post-Tribune

The headlines were about money for border security, but the federal government spending bill recently approved by Congress also included funding for commuter railroad projects like two planned by the South Shore Line.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, said in a release that the Fiscal Year 2019 Omnibus Appropriations legislation included $2.6 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant program, which he supports.

That’s $1.6 billion more than the Trump administration submitted in its budget request, Visclosky said.

Michael Noland, the South Shore Line’s president, is glad Congress acted.

“We continue to see tremendous bipartisan support for the Capital Investment Grant program,” he said. “I think it’s very positive that Congress continues to fund that.”

South Shore Line projects working their way through the FTA’s capital grants program are the West Lake expansion, which will build a new line from Hammond to Dyer, and the Double Track project, which will add a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City.

Current cost estimates for both projects total more than $1 billion – about $764 million for West Lake and $400 million for Double Track.

If approved, half of each project’s cost would come from the federal government and the rest from state and local sources.

Visclosky said the recently passed legislation requires the FTA to work on projects like West Lake and Double Track, which are still in the development stage.

“I am pleased that this law supports the great economic value of the Capital Investment Grant program,” Visclosky said in his news release, “and I will continue to do everything possible to support the West Lake expansion and Double Track project through their application processes.”

West Lake is farther along in the FTA’s approval process. Noland hopes it receives a favorable rating when the FTA submits its annual report to Congress, probably in a few weeks. That report was delayed by the five-week partial shutdown of federal government agencies earlier this year, as FTA employees were sidelined during that time.

The South Shore had hoped the FTA would give favorable ratings to both projects last year, but the FTA said it wanted more assurances about the projects’ local funding.

Since then, an agreement last year between the Indiana Finance Authority, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the South Shore’s owner, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, spelled out the local and state financing for the West Lake project.

A similar arrangement has yet to be worked out for the Double Track project, which encompasses a wider geographical area than West Lake