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South Shore Line to study new route to South Bend Airport, again

screenshot captured via Zoom
members of the NICTD board meet on August 1

The South Shore Line continues pushing for a more direct route to South Bend Airport but isn't ruling out a future extension to the city's downtown.

Mike Noland, the president of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), says the current route to the east side of the airport was only meant to be temporary but has now been in place for about 30 years. "We go past the airport, farther than we need to go, and we come around the back side, which is 20 grade crossings. And it takes us 12 to 15 minutes extra to travel that, to come in the back side of the airport," Noland told the NICTD board Monday.

Noland said a 2017 plan to route trains directly to the west side of the airport drew opposition, due to the number of properties that would have to be taken. But he believes it would cost a lot less than routing trains to downtown South Bend — and it would meet the railroad's goal of cutting the trip to Chicago down to 90 minutes.

With the amount of funding currently available, he said now is the time to do it. "We are at a time that's unprecedented, in my lifetime, from an infrastructure standpoint. There's money out there and numerous competitive grants," Noland said.

The NICTD board agreed to issue a request for proposals for engineering and environmental studies for a route to the west side of South Bend Airport. But Noland said it would also keep the door open for a second phase that would extend the mainline downtown and convert the airport branch into a shuttle. Public hearings will have to be held as part of the process.