PORTER — The South Shore Line’s Double Track NWI project appears to be back on track after bids to do the main construction work came in Monday significantly lower than during a first round last spring.

The low bid of $304.8 million was made by the Walsh/Herzog Joint Venture, well below May’s low bid $399.7 million, made by F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates.

The new bid still was well above initial engineers’ estimates of $228.6 million, but South Shore President Michael Noland said he felt good about the new price tag.

“We certainly want to do a complete review, but I will say I am pleased by these numbers,” he said.

In the second round, the Paschen/Nielsen partnership bid just under $322.4 million. The new bids will be reviewed before one is presented to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board of Trustees for approval. Noland said that likely would come within 30 days.

The difference between the low bid opened in May and the one opened Monday is due, in part, to NICTD removing certain elements of the contract, including purchase of materials like rail, cross ties and signaling wire, and professional services including managing implementation of the federally mandated positive train control safety system.

Uncertainty in the markets for commodities like copper and lumber caused bidders to incorporate a premium for price risk into their bids, as did uncertainty about managing the newly implemented positive train control system, railroad officials said.

By making those purchases itself, the railroad "de-risked this project and saw the benefit of that in this new pricing," Noland said.

The new contract also includes changes in the project itself, including reducing the number of boarding platforms at Michigan City and Miller from two to one, and eliminating new high-level platforms at Portage/Ogden Dunes.

Also, replacement of a bridge near the Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill and construction of a storage yard in Miller were deferred.

Those all will be eligible for completion if funding allows.

In all, Noland said the project changes amount to a net savings of about $65 million to $70 million from the original bids.

He said the changes won't impact the project's goals to add 14 trains to its service, reduce commute time and improve on-time performance.

The Double Track project will add a second set of tracks to single-track areas between Gary and Michigan City, replace or upgrade stations and bridges along the route, and move the mid-street tracks in Michigan City to run alongside city streets. The main construction contract under review now involves work on the railroad itself.

Other contracts include those for new stations and parking lots in Michigan City and Miller, and new parking lots at the Dune Park and Portage/Ogden Dunes stations.
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