The South Shore Line's plan for faster commuter service between Chicago and Northwest Indiana attracted largely positive reviews at a hearing Wednesday in Gary's Miller section.
About 100 people showed up for the chance to examine and comment on the railroad's proposal to build a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City. Most had left before the two-hour event was over.
The South Shore says the $312 million project would allow commuter trains to and from Chicago to run faster and with fewer delays. The railroad is applying for a federal grant to cover half of the project's cost.
"I'm in total support," Alan Harrell, a Miller resident, said. "I think many people who live in Miller see it as a positive, and they see retail development coming from it."
Janet Wagner, also of Miller, said she used to take the South Shore to work in Chicago but switched to driving her car because the train ride took too long.
She said she'd go back to the train if, as promised, the double-track project cuts the current 70-minute ride between Miller and downtown Chicago to about 40 minutes.
"I think it's going to help with development here, too," she added.
People attending the open-house hearing could circulate around more than 20 displays, set up in a Miller art gallery, on aspects of the double-track project. Most clustered around displays showing the planned new South Shore route through Miller along part of the current U.S. 12, with a new station and parking lots west of Lake Street. The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to connect U.S. 12 with U.S. 20 at a point east of Lake Street.
High-level platforms would be built at the Miller, Ogden Dunes/Portage, and Michigan City 11th Street stations, allowing passengers to get on and off the trains faster and providing easier access to those with wheelchairs and walkers.
The biggest impact on local traffic would be felt in Michigan City, where 13 streets that now cross the South Shore tracks along 10th and 11th streets would be closed.
A similar hearing was scheduled Thursday evening in Michigan City,
Michael Noland, the South Shore's president and general manager, urged the people attending the Miller event to speak up.
"We welcome any and all questions you have," he said
Archie and Renee Patterson, of Gary, liked some aspects of the project and had questions about others.
He liked the shorter commute and the potential for development around the new Miller station, but wondered what improvements the South Shore has in mind for the downtown Gary station.
She liked the new Miller station's higher platform but hoped the project included plans for noise reduction from the faster trains
"I love the idea of the South Shore expanding and giving us more accessibility to Chicago," said Megan Cecil, a Miller real estate company owner. "But I'm concerned that we have accessibility in and out of the community (during the project). Hopefully, it's a workable plan."
Jeff Heflin, who said he bought a mobile home park along U.S. 20 a few months ago, was looking for more information about the project. He hoped it would induce more people to move to Gary from Chicago.
Gary resident H. Gregory was more optimistic, anticipating an influx of Chicagoans looking for housing bargains in Gary.
Karen Wesley said Gary residents would have easier access to jobs in Chicago with the faster trains.
"I think this will be part of the revitalization of Gary," Gregory said.