The South Shore project includes double-tracking 16 miles between Michigan City and Gary, as well as the relocation of the South Shore Station in South Bend, all with the goal of reducing travel time from South Bend to Chicago from 2 hours 40 minutes to 90 minutes by 2020. Findings of a study looking at station relocation options are expected soon.
The City of South Bend has committed $25 million to reroute the tracks in the city. That would shave 10 minutes from the trip. Initially the South Shore’s operator, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, said it wanted to move the existing local station from the east end of the South Bend International Airport to its west end, cutting a new path through the Ardmore neighborhood and taking up to 40 homes. But after intense opposition from the Ardmore community, the South Bend Common Council unanimously passed a resolution asking Mayor Pete Buttigieg to look at alternatives, prompting the city’s redevelopment commission to hire a consulting firm to conduct further study.
• The west end of the airport/Ardmore route;
• Building a new station across the street from Honeywell Corp., on underutilized parking lots near the area where the existing route curves north along Bendix Drive;
• Renovating the existing Amtrak station at West Washington and Meade streets, a site the South Shore used from 1970-92 and still owns.
• Building a new station at the planned South Bend Chocolate Co. production facility/dinosaur museum that company owner Mark Tarner is building west of the U.S. 31 bypass, west of the airport.
• Building a new downtown station.
The study is looking at four main things for each of the five options: construction costs, operating costs, how much economic development the new station could spur around the site, and how long each site might take to build.
As an example of something the Buttigieg team has asked AECOM (the consultant) to study further, the mayor said it has asked the consultant to use the same methodology for projecting construction costs on all five options that engineering firm DLZ Inc., hired by NICTD, used to estimate the construction costs of the original airport station relocation.
In another example, to project operating or ongoing costs once a station is built, AECOM has asked NICTD to detail its operating costs at existing South Shore stations, such as security and staffing.
Buttigieg noted that the firm won’t be recommending one of the options. It will simply present the data it has gathered and projected.
Taking the train downtown would have the most impact on commerce and benefit the city most, said Jim Schellinger, Indiana’s Secretary of Commerce.
Schellinger, a South Bend native and Notre Dame alum, said the university always has had a “huge following” in Chicago, and he could see the downtown’s recent resurgence drawing those visitors again.
“I think they probably saw a lot of people coming down to South Bend on the weekends and did things in the city, when the city had Michigan Street and the State Theater and Penney’s, Robertson’s, the popcorn shop, the peanut shop,” said Schellinger. “Obviously going downtown could be something real special for the city. But it’s probably the most expensive option. You get what you pay for.”
Schellinger said his second choice would be running the line through the South Bend Chocolate site.
“I preface that with if, if, the development is very serious and it’s a big idea, and it’s carried out with a lot of vision.”
After Tarner’s site, Schellinger said he would favor either of the Amtrak or Honeywell sites. Those two options would likely be the least expensive and the least disruptive but perhaps also generate the least amount of economic development, he said.
His last choice would be to run the route through the Ardmore neighborhood to a new station on the west side of the airport terminal.
“I don’t know what that gets you,” he said. “It’s very disruptive to the homeowners and it just cuts some time off the same spot you’re already going to. At the end of the day, are you getting bang for your buck and a return on investment?”
The Indiana Economic Development Corp., which Schellinger heads, could offer incentives such as tax credits for any of the options if it determines they have potential to spur creation of new jobs.