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Plans to fill remaining gaps in Marquette Greenway Trail moving ahead

U.S. Department of Transportation website

Efforts to build a continuous bike trail from Chicago to Michigan continue to move forward. The remaining gaps in the 60-mile Marquette Greenway Trail are being filled one piece at a time, thanks to an infusion of state and federal funding.

Mitch Barloga is the active transportation manager for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC). "So the Marquette Greenway is well underway and well-funded and continues to be well-funded," he recently told NIRPC's Ped, Pedal & Paddle Committee.

In May, the city of Portage hired Gariup Construction Company to build the section from Deer Trail Park east to the town of Burns Harbor for a cost of almost $2.9 million. Construction is expected to start in June.

Meanwhile, Porter County was recently awarded a $4.9 million Next Level Trails grant to replace the gravel Calumet Trail with a 10-foot-wide asphalt trail between the Dune Park South Shore station and Lake Shore County Road.

When it’s done, Barloga said bicyclists will have a much more pleasant ride. "The idea is to kind of get the trail off the current route, which is pretty monotone from one end to the other. It's putting the trail within the tree canopy of the [Indiana Dunes] National Park. It is helping the trail access different parts of the national park that have been kind of, more or less, just accessible by automobile for years," Barloga explained.

But the remainder of the trail still presents some challenges. Charles Bradsky, a transportation projects manager with NIRPC, noted that it will take up to five engineering firms.

"It would be a Lake County section, a Porter County section, a LaPorte County section, a Michigan section, and then, there's also going to be one for a project management/engineer and design review," he told committee members. And each portion will go through a different process, to meet the deadlines in place for federal COVID-19 money.

Local leaders feel the Marquette Greenway can have a transformational effect on Northwest Indiana. That’s something U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Highland) noted when he announced federal funding for a Gary portion of the trail in April.

"Ultimately, what we have to envision is it is economic development, so it is a connector. It's a connector from Chicago all around the Great Lakes to bring people in from across the country," he said at the time.

It’s also expected to bring more bike tourists to Northwest Indiana on the South Shore Line, especially after the railroad’s Double Track project. Officials with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) say the Bikes on Trains program has seen strong numbers since it began in 2016. But NICTD President Mike Noland believes these projects will bring an “exponential” increase in users.

"When we finish Double Track, you'll have a high-level boarding platform at Miller in Gary, so people can access the trail system or the beach there. We'll have a high-level platform at Ogden Dunes. They can get off and get on the trail system and connect up there, here [at Dune Park], and as well as Michigan City. Having Michigan City, as well, as part of that connection is huge for the Bikes on Trains program," Noland recently told the NICTD Board.

Porter County Commissioner Jeff Good also sees the importance of the Marquette Greenway for Northwest Indiana. "I'm really excited. I know my term is done at the end of this year, but I wanted to make sure that the funding and make sure that this thing got done because it's going to be a gem," he told the rest of the NICTD Board.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.