RDA puts $80 million behind plan to extend South Shore
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2014 3:36PM
The Regional Development Authority on Friday announced it would commit $80 million over 10 years to help expand the South Shore rail line to Munster and Dyer. Here, a South Shore train pulls into the Gary Metro stop. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: March 9, 2014 6:19AM
The Regional Development Authority announced a commitment of $8 million annually for 10 years toward the proposed South Shore West Lake Corridor rail extension on Friday.
The commitment marks another toward step in drumming up local matching funds at least half the cost of the project, which is estimated at $571 million. Munster recently voted to dedicate 34 percent of its annual share of the County Economic Development Income Tax monies — estimated at 279,623 — and Lake County officials have discussed an annual commitment of between $2-3 million.
The eight-mile extension would connect Munster and Dyer to the existing line, with possible future expansion into Lowell and Valparaiso.
In addition, the RDA Board said it would approve a $1.1 million grant to the Northwest Indiana Commuter Transportation District for an environmental impact study that must be completed prior to construction. NICTD will provide $1.9 million of its own funds for the study.
RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said discussions continue with Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, county and local officials, and state legislators “to get across the finish line.” March 31 is the unofficial deadline to have funding in place.
Visclosky has backed such a project for years, releasing a video about it on Wednesday. He and other officials argue that the increased access to public transit would aid residents who commute to jobs in Chicago and encourage them to spend money in Northwest Indiana. An economic impact study estimated that the annual commuter income generated by the West Lake Corridor is $147.3 million, a 62 percent increase over the $237.5 million that the South Shore line commuters now bring back to Northwest Indiana.
“I appreciate the commitment made today by the Regional Development Authority in support of this transformational opportunity for Northwest Indiana,” Visclosky said. “Their foresight to connect our great region to the Chicago economy and to invest in our region’s future generations is commendable.”
The RDA is now investigating costs of operating trains on the West Lake Corridor since federal funding requires that a project have a source of operational funding. Under Senate Bill 367, the RDA would receive an additional $4 million annually from casino revenues. If approved, this money will be placed in escrow to establish an operating fund for the West Lake Corridor.
“It’s important to note that no new taxes are being contemplated,” Hanna said. “No one’s tax bill is going to go up to build the train. Everyone is looking at ways to fund the project out of existing revenues.”
If the project isn’t delayed, construction would start in 2020, with trains running by 2022. The West Lake Corridor will carry around 5,600 riders when finished — a 40 percent increase in ridership over current numbers, according to RDA estimates.