Submitted by: Dorothy Hagan, NIPRA Treasurer
As we head in to April of 2017 the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) is busy working on strengthening its message and clarifying its mission. In talks with Peter Schwartz of the Federal Railroad Administration it was determined that a full Tier 1 EIS is not necessary at this point of the project as the rail line from Tolleston into Lima is all existing right-of-way. Mr. Schwartz said that for this project an Environmental Assessment (EA) would be appropriate. This less intensive review is appropriate at this point in the study, particularly on this section of the corridor utilizing existing right-of-way. NIPRA has hired HNTB to work on portions of the EA. When more funds are raised we will be able to complete the full EA work. Since the Business Plan commissioned by NIPRA is now five years old and conditions have changed, freight rail traffic on the corridor has also changed. In some cases track conditions have been improved or may have deteriorated so this EA work will be the due diligence needed to ensure that our corridor is primed to progress when local, state and federal agencies have funding identified.
Recent discussions with corridor partners, including INDOT and FRA staff, produced the recommendation that NIPRA work toward updating and lobbying for support from State legislators and the Governor. INDOT staff emphasized it will be very important at budget time to have executive and legislative support for the project. FRA indicated that the federal government is more likely to assist a project if it has strong state support. NIPRA Board members have started meeting with Indiana legislators. Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MOPRC) continues its efforts to gather support in Ohio. MORPC staff is also coordinating bi-weekly calls with the Ohio partners to encouraging their Ohio partners to continue their fundraising efforts so Ohio can begin their EA work.
There are plans to have a Corridor-wide partnership meeting in late May to update the partner agencies, educate on funding available for station improvements and strategize on future efforts. NIPRA has discussed on holding another “Rally for Rail” to update the community and garner more support. Also being considered is hosting a State Legislator Day in Fort Wayne when legislators are home.
The EA currently under contract will focus on the line from Tolleston to Lima. Future work will be need on the section from Lima into Columbus.
The MPOs along the corridor have agreed to assist in the Public Outreach portion of the Tolleston-Fort Wayne-Lima EA work. Three public meetings will be required during the summer/fall of 2017.