“Based on our preliminary studies before starting the design of the West Lake Corridor, there was a need to construct this line to offer a new, local, high-volume transportation system with a direct connection to downtown Chicago,” said Mike Rowe, NICTD project development engineer.
(FH Paschen photo)
With an emphasis on sustainability and wetland mitigation to protect the environment, Indiana's West Lake Corridor will serve as a southern branch extension of the existing South Shore Line (SSL) to reach Hammond, Munster and Dyer in Lake County, when completed. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) is overseeing the $852 million dollar project, which is expected to reduce auto emissions and promote economic development opportunities.
"Based on our preliminary studies before starting the design of the West Lake Corridor, there was a need to construct this line to offer a new, local, high-volume transportation system with a direct connection to downtown Chicago," said Mike Rowe, NICTD project development engineer. "Local community members as far south as Dyer and St. John would drive to our Hammond and East Chicago stations to commute and travel in and out of Chicago. This new line will eliminate vehicular traffic both locally and in the Chicagoland area and offer a convenient, quick way into Chicago."
The project will add approximately 8 mi. of new track from the existing mainline in Hammond, Ind., to Munster/Dyer, Ind., following the old Monon Railroad right-of-way. As part of the environmental review process for the project, NICTD developed and reviewed alternatives, including selecting a locally preferred alternative (LPA), which was evaluated through the local planning process and adopted as the desired alternative by the appropriate state and local agencies.
"The current plan with four new stations at Hammond Gateway, South Hammond, Ridge Road and Munster/Dyer represents the LPA," said Rowe. "The geographical location of each station was selected to maximize ridership and promote walkability. Additionally, the stations are approximately two miles apart."
A new center platform will be constructed at the Hammond Gateway Station to facilitate transfers between West Lake Service and South Shore Line Service. The West Lake platform at Hammond Gateway Station will be part of an elevated station with shelters, an elevator and stairways. The remaining three stations and the South Shore Line station at Hammond Gateway will be at-grade stations with warming shelters, parking facilities, benches, trash receptacles and bicycle racks.
Construction began in 2021, with revenue service currently on schedule to begin in May 2025. F.H. Paschen and Ragnar Benson Construction have created a joint venture to complete the project.
"Both companies have the technical capability and capacity to deliver a project of this magnitude," said Rowe. "Jacobs Engineering Group is the final designer of record. Aldridge Electric will be constructing the overhead contact system, a unique system to power our trains instead of diesel engines. Also, RailWorks Track Services will be constructing the guideway and Stalworth Underground is handling all deep foundations."
According to George Robbins, AECOM senior construction manager/project manager, the work is being carried out in phases.
"Project development consists of performing studies and analysis to define basic elements of the project, including aspects of engineering work. Common to all phases are categories that are evaluated and considered, including cost, management, schedule and scope."
Robbins said protection of human health and the environment should be a key component of all construction efforts, especially on the scale of the NICTD Westlake Corridor.
"Understanding current conditions of the environment and how the human component interacts with it is essential to ‘building better'. Protection of environmentally sensitive areas and remediation of environmentally damaged areas during the construction process create the potential to build back better for the local community and surrounding area."
Regarding sustainability, "The design phase of the NICTD Westlake Corridor project incorporated multiple facets of sustainable technology to alleviate the need for constant repair and upgrade of key components," said Robbins. "Increasing efficiency, durability and design with respect to longevity, allows for a less invasive maintenance approach to the planned rail line. Identification of environmentally sensitive areas during the design phase of the project aided the creation and implementation of project controls to reduce the construction footprint, as well as establish ‘green' areas for the surrounding communities."
Gary Babcoke, NICTD project engineer, said overall feedback regarding the project has been positive.
"Community members have expressed excitement towards a new, local transportation system that has a direct connection into downtown Chicago for work and play opportunities. The ongoing construction has very minimal roadway closures and detours. Pedestrians using the Monon trail have seen and will continue to see more substantial effects, including the removal of the pedestrian bridge over the Little Calumet River and long-term closures of the trail in general.
"We've spent a great deal of time working on the design of this job, so it's very rewarding to see boots on the ground advancing the project and turning the designs and drawings into a reality."
Babcoke added that coordination between third parties has been the most challenging element of the project to date, mainly because each has its own priorities. The elements also can be a problem, if not addressed.
"The winter season in Northwest Indiana often will deter many construction activities from occurring. The F.H. Paschen/Ragnar Benson Joint Venture has mitigated this concern through their construction activity scheduling to eliminate any delays due to the weather."
The substructure work for bridges and elevated structures is ongoing. Considerable foundation work has been completed for both bridges and elevated sections in Hammond. Pile driving and earthwork are also under way. Pile driving in general creates local vibrations. Vibration monitoring at select locations permits correlation between pile driving activities and potential vibration challenges. Regarding earthwork, the contractor is currently working within the old Monon rail yard, which is the future home of the West Lake South Hammond Station.
Excavation is significant on the project. The high-level view of dirt being moved is roughly estimated to be more than 200,000 cu. yds.
Designs for the various retaining walls in Munster have mainly been completed, but construction has not yet begun. There will be a combination of cast-in-place and precast walls within the town.
Utility and earthwork have started at the location of the Munster/Dyer Station. As far as project demolition, it includes the removal of pavement; a pedestrian bridge; trail paths; and fencing and buildings within the project alignment. There are 86 residential and nine commercial/industrial structures requiring teardown as a part of the undertaking.
Equipment at the job site includes cranes, front-end loaders, graders and backhoes. Main materials required to complete construction activities have been steel for piles and bridges and concrete for bridge bents and retaining walls.
Much work remains for crews and the construction management team, but the payoff makes the effort worthwhile.
"West Lake is one of a handful of new rail construction projects in the country," said Babcoke. "It's rewarding to have a small hand in a project of this magnitude."
Robbins added, "There is a sense of pride generated from the successful completion of a transit project that will serve communities, including one's family, for years to come." CEG
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