Marquette Action Plan
NIRPC continued to work on the Marquette Action Plan, the fourth iteration of the plan. The plan identifies land across our region’s lakefront that can be feasibly transformed into new publicly-accessible areas for conservation, recreation, amenities, and livable communities. The plan provides recommendations to further the vision of an open and accessible lakefront for all. In June of 2018, the Plan was completed.
NWI Food Council
NIRPC continues to support the advancement of the local food system movement through the NWI Food Council. The Council’s mission is to build a just, sustainable, and thriving locally-oriented food system for all in our region. On March 15, 2017, over 180 community members came together for the Council’s first FED: Food Expo & Discussion regional event to connect, learn and inspire one another to grow and use local, sustainable food and understand its connections to the local economy and our transportation system. The inaugural FarmHop; local farm tours, on September 23, 2017, featured four separate tours of 16 diverse urban and rural local farms in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and Jasper counties. Participants gained a new appreciation for agriculture, agritourism, and the diversity of our region. In addition, a series of casual Meet-Ups were held across the region as an opportunity to discuss food related topics.
During 2018, the second annual FED: Food Expo & Discussions regional event was held on February 23rd with over 200 community members participating. The theme focused on food justice and social inequity in the food system of Northwest Indiana with various expert-led workshops covering food access and transportation, farms-to-schools, soil conservation, alternative resources, funding for food projects and marketing for food entrepreneurs.
The 2nd annual FarmHop was held on August 11 and September 22 highlighting a series of farm tours around the 7 counties of Northwest Indiana. Nearly 20 farms were featured on this years FarmHop tours, from rural to urban, organic to conventional. A variety of workshops and events were held to further educate on farm and food business and policies and land access. The NWI Food Council also received a series of grants to further advance the food system in Northwest Indiana. The grants include:
- Farm Tool Library - $10,000 SIA Foundation (Subaru of Indiana Automotive) - To provide access to farm tools, equipment and support small farms throughout NWI.
- Lake County Eats Local - $226,119 (USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program - In partnership with Legacy Foundation and Purdue Extension Lake County to create greater food access in Lake County.
- Farm Connect - $515,448 (USDA Local Food Promotion Program) - In partnership and lead by Indiana University and Purdue University to improve local food supply chains throughout Indiana via value-chain coordinators, one-on-one wholesale training for farmers, establish aggregators and assist with FSMA compliance.
Regional land use planning
NIRPC continued to support regional land use through the Land Use Committee and provided education, guidance, and knowledge to local governments that promoted the integration of land use and transportation planning. NIRPC converted the current regional land use data to a parcel-based data using GIS. NIRPC also digitized missing existing land use data using GIS and Google Maps.
Regional Corridor Study
In 2017, NIRPC completed the Regional Corridor Study (RCS) that examines the overall regional "grid" and distance between access points along limited access highways. The study identifies 22 road segments whose completion would greatly improve connectivity within our region. The NIRPC transportation team established a process for the RCS next steps and coordinated a meeting to discuss the extension of Main Street in Munster to Joe Orr Road in Illinois, and 109th in St. John to the Illinois side. All the affected agencies’ elected officials from Munster, Dyer, St. John, Lansing, Lynwood and South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association were invited to coordinate the next steps of the roads extension. Main St. was specifically prioritized for a number of reasons. It ranked first onthe RCS priority list and it was recommended in the Westlake Corridor TOD Plan to be extended to the Illinois border. The transportation team provided technical assistance and conducted traffic projection for Main Street through transportation modeling to investigate the possibilities to build the road in the future with either two-lanes with a continuous left turn lane option or four, two-way lanes.
Regional Collaboration for Regional Mobility
Congestion Management Process and travel demand modeling
A transportation team member attended the Transportation Research Board’s 96th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC to refine and improve travel demand modeling skills and techniques. Travel time data from cell phones and GPS devices was collected and processed through a newly available Federal Highway Administration contract which will improve our knowledge of congestion and reliability to help our region and its Congestion Management Process. In addition, the transportation team provided modeling support to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District to project ridership and traffic impacts expected to result from the Double Tracking and West Lake Corridor projects upon anticipated opening in 2022. The team also led the Interagency Consultation Group on Air Quality in demonstrating that the region’s 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program conforms to the Indiana State Implementation Plan.
Staff partnered with a Valparaiso University data science class to research reliability and congestion trends based on probe data sourced from mobile phones and in-vehicle GPS devices. These results helped prepare NIRPC to set targets for the reliability and congestion performance measures. Also, NIRPC managed a consultant-led effort update the Air Quality Post Processor that now directly interfaces with the NIRPC Travel Demand Model. This will save NIRPC about two weeks each time NIRPC is required to demonstrate Air Quality Conformity.
In 2017, NIRPC worked closely with GPTC and local communities to form the Lakeshore South Forum. This group was able to facilitate a conversation leading to a short-term funding solution to prevent the closure of the Lakeshore South bus route and assist in long-term funding solutions for transit in Lake County. The transportation team, working with the Transit Operator’s Roundtable was able to kick-off the development of a new project selection process that is compatible with FTA’s Transit Asset Management requirements.
In 2018, NIRPC worked closely with transit operators, human service partners, and members of the public to deliver several accomplishments. The largest undertaking was the completion of the Coordinated Human Services Public Transportation Plan or “Coordinated Plan.” This plan is a federal requirement in order to receive funding which provides resources for eligible transit operators to improve the mobility for people who have disabilities, people who are elderly, and people who are low income. In addition to meeting the baseline federal requirements, the intended outcome of the Coordinated Plan was to examine the transportation needs of Northwestern Indiana as a whole. This plan addresses who in our region need transportation the most, and where do they need to go; and outlines priorities for transit funding.
NIRPC also completed a Transit Asset Management (TAM) plan for its subrecipients. TAM plans are a federal requirement to assist transit operators with a working technical document to plan, schedule, and maintain assets that are necessary to their services. A TAM plan provides a detailed set of priorities to ensure the most critical parts of a transit operator’s services are able to maintain serviceable standards even if funding is severely limited.
Both the Coordinated Plan and the TAM plan were used in the development of a new project selection process. This new process leveraged strategies in each document to incentivize creating efficiencies within Northwestern Indiana’s transit system. Additionally, priorities that received significant public support were given priority for funding in the new scoring process.
Intelligent Transportation Systems
The transportation team provided the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and its partner the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center with an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) strategy to disseminate knowledge of parking space availability at various beach access sites in the park in order to improve traffic flow and visitor experience.
Staff drafted Influences and Trends as part of the 2050 Plan development that will likely shape the future of NW Indiana, with technology such as shared mobility and connected and autonomous vehicles playing a major role. Staff received feedback for these influences and trends at public pop-up events and NIRPC committee meetings. These emerging technologies including Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) helped guide NIRPC to naming New Chances in a New Frontier as one of the 3 branded scenarios in the 2050 Plan.
NIRPC participated in the development of the 2017 Indiana Trails Study, being conducted by the Eppley Institute at Indiana University. This study is a follow-up to a landmark 2002 document, with nine major trail systems being studied statewide. During the year, NIRPC helped staff volunteers along the Erie-Lackawanna Trail during four non-consecutive weeks. Participants were asked to take an online survey, and people were targeted off-trail as well for a control group. This report was released in the spring of 2018.
In March of 2018, the NIRPC Commission approved the Greenways+Blueways 2020 Plan (G+B 2020 Plan), which represents an update to the 2007 Greenways & Blueways Plan, and 2010 Ped & Pedal Plan. This document merged both conservation and non-motorized transportation planning into a unified plan highlighting their symbiotic relationships. The G+B 2020 Plan also engages eight major stakeholder groups by strategically targeting their participation towards implementation. In recognition of the G+B 2020 Plan’s landmark approach, as of the end of 2018 it has been recognized for four state and national awards. These include the “Promoting Regionalism” Award from the Indiana Association of Regional Councils; the 2018 Outstanding Planning Project from the Indiana MPO Council; the National Award for Outstanding Overall Achievement from the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations; and the 2018 Medium Metro Achievement Award from the National Association of Regional Councils.
In 2018, the latest edition of the Greenways+Blueways Map was released. This fourth edition of the document highlights all routes for hiking, bicycling and paddling. These routes primarily are represented by the nearly 170-miles of paved multi-use trails that exist today in Lake, Porter & LaPorte Counties. This latest edition also highlights a number of trails that are slated to be completed by the end of 2019. Going forward, NIRPC plans to release an updated map every two years instead of four, mainly to keep up with the rapid development of non-motorized facilities in NW Indiana. Thanks to several generous sponsors, the map will remain free of charge to the public.
Transportation Improvement Program development and management
In 2017, the transportation team completed the project selection process for the FY 2018-2021 TIP. This process provides the opportunity for local communities and transit providers to apply for funding to support their ongoing transportation programming over the next four years. The prior FY 2016-2019, TIP in effect for the first half of 2017, was amended or modified 7 times during 2017. There were 291 different changes made to individual project listings. This TIP reached a new record in terms of total dollars invested ($1.4 billion) and number of individual project phases at 1,040.
In 2018, the development of the FY 2020-2024 TIP began with a significant overhaul to the programming and project selection process. For the first time in NIRPC history all $267 million of funding allocated to our Region will programmed all at once, demonstrating our commitment to leveraging all the federal-aid we receive.
Transportation Improvement Program development and management
In 2018, the transportation team began the project selection process for the FY 2020-2024 TIP. This process provides the opportunity for local communities and transit providers to apply for funding to support their ongoing transportation programming over the next five years. The prior FY 2018-2021 TIP was amended 7 times and was modified 12 times during 2018. There were approximately 235 different changes made to individual project listings.
Surface Transportation Projects
In fiscal year 2018, the federal government allocated $176,304,538 for projects in Lake, Porter and LaPorte Counties. These projects had a variety of sponsors, including Indiana Department of Transportation, counties, municipalities, transit operators, and NIRPC. The following graph shows the general type of projects that these funds were spent on. In general, obligated funds were spent in seven different areas:
- Bike / Pedestrian Facilities
- Intersection Improvements
- Small Structures (culverts, pipes)
- Other miscellaneous projects
Bicycling, paddling and pedestrian trails
During 2017, a number of trail projects were completed. On land, the long-awaited connection between the Oak Savannah and Erie-Lackawanna Trails was finished in Griffith. This 2-mile route provides a safe, off-road link between the two longest trails in our region. Also, a 3.9-mile section of the Little Calumet Levee Trail was paved in 2017, which is in addition to the 5.3-miles paved last year. A gap of approximately 3.3-miles remain between these paved segments. On water, thanks to the hard work of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association, eight-miles of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River has been opened up for paddling. Since 1985 this stretch was heavily choked with trees and debris. Plans are to extend this system to State Route 149.
In 2018, two major projects were completed along the Marquette Greenway corridor. These included a half-mile section of trail from the Hammond Marina west to the Illinois State Line, where it connects to a frontage road in the City of Chicago. This exciting new connection now affords trail users a safe passage between the two states and links to two major regional parks (Whiting Lakefront and Calumet Park). The other notable project is the new bridge over Calumet Avenue at Wolf Lake. This Hammond-led initiative provides a critical grade separated gateway for pedestrians and bicycles, and links two major trails running east into Whiting, and west around the lake. The bridge also serves as a significant landmark with Frank Lloyd Wright inspired design elements and neon backlighting.
Further progress was achieved in Hammond with the installation of city-wide trail signage, or wayfinding. These enhancements include signs identifying streets, destinations, directions with distances and mile markers. NIRPC is working with communities along both the Erie-Lackawanna and Prairie-Duneland Trails on installing similar wayfinding elements in the summer of 2019.
NIRPC completed several smaller more routine pieces of its transit program. 2018 marked another year negotiating a successful federal funding split with Illinois through the Regional Transit Authority. These funds were later successfully split among local direct and subrecipients of federal transit funding, and secured into grants for another year of operating transit. The FTA apportionment for transit investments was $800,000 above NIRPC’s estimate for FY 2017. NIRPC also provided as-needed technical support to the operators, including a financial analysis used to determine the feasibility of small operators switching their NTD reporting status and how 5307 funding may be affected. NIRPC assisted Portage and Hobart with the completion of their respective transit studies. Portage is considering rolling out a new transit service using CMAQ funds in 2021. Hobart developed a supplementary planning document to try and implement service earlier. Major transit expansion projects included in the TIP were the NICTD West Lake expansion, the double tracking of the South Shore, and GPTC's Livable Broadway Bus Rapid Transit Program.
In partnership with the Regional Development Authority (RDA), NIRPC also co-administers two US EPA Grants totalling $1.4 Million on behalf of the the Northwest Indiana Brownfields Coalition which includes the cities of Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago. The Coalition closed out a $600,000 assessment grant during the fall of 2018. Overall this grant funded 24 Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, 6 Phase II Environmental Site Assessments, and two clean-up planning projects resulting in further clean up planning and remediation work with the Indiana Brownfield Program. Several of these projects have resulted in applications to the Coalition’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund grant. 444 acres of land in the Gary 12/20 corridor planned for Transit Oriented and Light Industrial Development were screened for potential environmental issues. At the close of the grant, these funds have already enabled two commercial redevelopment projects in East Chicago and a new residential development in Hammond to move forward.The coalition estimates that this funding has leveraged over $20 Million of economic value for the region.
The NWI Brownfield Coalition continues to have available $700,000 in the Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, with over $2 Million in potential projects in various stages of eligibility determination and application for redevelopment supporting clean-up projects. On April 25th, 2018 NIRPC co-hosted a Brownfield Redevelopment Workshop with the Northwest Indiana Forum to help transfer the lessons we have learned through this project throughout the region.
Looking forward to 2020, NIRPC will partner again with the RDA and the Northwest Indiana Forum Foundation to apply for new Brownfield Assessment dollars to create a Greater Northwest Indiana Brownfield Coalition. The new coalition will continue to support urban core reinvestment, while also making assessment funds available to other communities throughout the region.
Since 2017, through partnerships with the US Forest Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Community and Urban Forestry Program, the IDNR Lake Michigan Coastal Program, and NIPSCO NIRPC has implemented two $100,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant which provided approximately 700 trees to 18 communities and partners. The project also sponsored four workshops on tree care, urban tree inventories, and tree care ordinances. Thanks to NIRPC and our committed partners, the Communitree program has been so successful an additional $100,000 was secured to take into 2020.
Portage Burns Waterway Initiative
In 2017 the Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved the Deep River-Portage Burns Waterway Watershed Management Plan completed by staff in 2016. This allowed NIRPC to initiate a cost-share program to encourage implementation of best management practices to improve water quality throughout this watershed which stretches from Winfield and Crown Point to Portage Lakefront Park. Through a subsequent IDEM 319 Watershed Implementation Grant, NIRPC has been able to provide over $86,000 in federal cost-share dollars to four projects with the City of Hobart, Town of Merrillville, and a private farmer. Cumulatively, these projects will result in over 1000 TONS per year in sediment load reduction, 1,700 lbs/year phosphorus and 3,390 lbs of nitrogen load reduction to Lake George and the Deep River.
Created with images by Steve Johnson - "Michigan City Lighthouse"