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7/13/2017 6:39:00 PM
South Shore Double Track local funding finalized; now it's up to federal government

Andrew Steele, Times of Northwest Indiana

The St. Joseph County Council's vote Tuesday to finance the county's share of the South Shore Line's $290 million double-tracking project capped a seven-week period that saw financing secured in each county along the line.

The county is committing $18.25 million to the Double Track project, and plans to sell bonds to finance that contribution. For St. Joseph County, the project promises to help reduce the trip from South Bend to Chicago to an hour and a half.

"90 minutes or bust!" South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted after the vote.

The city itself intends to finance a project of as much as $25 million to reroute the South Shore in the city and move its airport-based station to make the trip quicker through the city.

St. Joseph County Commissioners had approved the Memorandum of Understanding with the city's Redevelopment Commission pledging each to the projects June 20.

The $18.25 million figure represents one-eighth of the engineering and construction cost of the project. Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties have made a similar commitment.

LaPorte County

LaPorte County's share is being split between the county, which is picking up one-third, and Michigan City, which will pay the other two-thirds.

The county will use $5 million from its major bridge fund and $1.1 million from its emergency reserve fund. The city's $12.1 million share will come from its Redevelopment Commission, which is using $6.7 million in existing funds and is planning to finance $5.4 million through a bond sale.

Lake and Porter counties

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is responsible for Lake and Porter counties' shares. The RDA approved a resolution June 8 pledging as much as $3 million per year for 30 years to the project.

The RDA is the point organization for local financing for both the double tracking and West Lake Corridor extension projects, but legislation from this year's Indiana General Assembly gives the Indiana Finance Authority a direct role in financing the project, bringing the state's Triple-A bond rating to the table.

State and federal

That legislation, House Enrolled Act 1144, established the mechanisms for county contributions to the double-track project. It also created Transit Development Districts that will capture growth in local income and property taxes to provide financing for economic development projects.

The state made its own contribution to the project through the budget, committing $6 million per year. That commitment is intended to run the life of any bond issue, potentially 30 years. The contribution matches the state pledge toward the West Lake Corridor.

All of this comes in advance of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's application for a federal grant to cover half the project cost, about $145 million.

The grant would come from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Capital Investment Grant program. NICTD plans to request a project rating from the Federal Transit Administration later this summer, with the hope of earning a high enough rating to advance to the next phase in the federal funding pipeline — the engineering phase — late this year.

Then, the project would become eligible for a full-funding grant agreement in 2018, with construction to begin in 2019 and completion in 2020.

Related Stories:
• St. Joseph County commissioners OK funding for South Shore double-tracking
• New route for South Shore could cost 40 homes in South Bend

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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