Phil Wieland, Times of Northwest Indiana

phil.wieland@nwi.com

VALPARAISO | Now that funding for the city to buy its own ChicaGo Dash buses has been approved, Valparaiso is exploring adding a Hobart stop to the express commuter service to Chicago.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission approved a $2.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the city to buy four coaches for the Dash. The city now leases buses from Free Enterprise System Inc., which also operates the service for the city. Valparaiso expects to reduce its overall expenses by owning the buses.

Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said he chatted with Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor about the possibility of adding a stop in Hobart.

"I think we definitely want to explore it," Costas said of the Hobart stop. "We have to look at the data and the impact on the riders. We definitely want to begin that process now and outline what are the things we need to look at. All along we knew it was important for us to look at working with additional communities. It was most important for us to begin the service before we did that."

Dash buses take Ind. 130 from Valparaiso to Ind. 51 in Hobart before reaching the Interstate 80/94 entrance in Lake Station toward Chicago's Loop. A third bus is being added to the weekday runs Monday, and two Saturday buses now are operating.

The issue of added stops was raised by the NIRPC board prior to the Aug. 20 funding vote. Costas said a Hobart stop could provide added value and riders. He said the federal funding gives the city more confidence it will be able to continue the express route. Adding a stop in Portage would not be as easy, and Portage residents are closer to the South Shore commuter rail station at Dune Acres.

"We are building ridership, and we have a good product," he said. "But we can only take on so many facets at a time and do it well."

Costas said he asked Snedecor to appoint someone to meet with Valparaiso Assistant Planning Director Tyler Kent, who also is the city's transit director, to discuss the Hobart stop. Snedecor said he will name someone soon.

"We want to have some dialogue on it," Snedecor said. "It would be a potentially worthwhile endeavor if the citizens of Hobart would use it. There are people who live in Hobart who work in Chicago, and we are always looking for ways to reduce pollution and traffic on the highways. If it would be something the citizens of Hobart would support through ridership, it might be beneficial to Valparaiso's efforts and to Hobart."

The Hobart stop probably would be in the vicinity of the Ind. 51 and U.S. 6 intersection and also could benefit Lake Station residents better than adding another stop in that city, Costas said. It will depend on how many riders would be gained and how it would affect route timing. The buses leave Village Station just east of downtown Valparaiso and make three stops in the Loop.

Although a lot of discussion and information sharing must take place before a decision is made, Snedecor said, "It's showing that communities are working together, no matter what the county."

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