Visclosky: ‘No point in waiting’ on South Shore extension plan
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org March 19, 2014 5:40PM
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, discusses the advantages of the proposed South Shore Line extension at a Wednesday, March 19, 2014, Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. | Christin Nance Lazerus~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 21, 2014 7:01PM
EAST CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, urged members of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon to support the proposed South Shore rail extension, saying it is critical in attracting young people to live and work in Northwest Indiana.
“We have the unique opportunity of shaping the economic development of the future and tying ourselves to the economic engine of Chicago,” Visclosky said. “We see the vibrancy of our young people, but so many of them have not returned to the area after serving in the military, building trades or college.”
Visclosky said that has led to an older population that is earning less and losing population.
“You have to work pretty hard to suppress population,” Visclosky said. “Whatever we’ve done in the past isn’t working.”
After his speech, Visclosky took questions about proposed station locations, economic development around stations, expanding bus service and the expected economic impact. Currently, South Shore passengers bring home about $237 million in income, Visclosky said, but the extension would add more than $137 million to that total.
The luncheon at Ameristar Casino was just the latest stop on Visclosky’s diligent lobbying effort for the proposed 8-mile extension. He has criss-crossed Lake County to talk up the advantages of the line, which would run south from Hammond along the abandoned Monon Corridor to Munster and Dyer.
Construction is estimated to cost between $571 million and $615 million. Visclosky has been busy talking to Lake County communities, urging them to commit about 35 percent of the new economic development income tax revenues for 10 years toward the construction. Construction could start as early as 2020, with trains running by 2022.
As of Wednesday, the Regional Development Authority dedicated $8 million; Munster has dedicated 34 percent of its CEDIT funds, or $279,623; Highland 20 percent, or $114,883; Hobart 18 percent, or $171,000; Whiting 25 percent, or $101,892; and Lake County 25 percent, or $2.14 million. The Indiana General Assembly closed a tax loophole that will direct $4 million annually toward operating the train line.
That leaves almost $6 million left and only 13 days left before Visclosky’s March 31 deadline. Visclosky said he and his staff are talking to or meeting with officials almost daily, and a working group planned for Thursday morning with Dyer and other municipalities.
But the clock is ticking, Visclosky said.
“We’ve been talking about this for 27 years,” Visclosky said. “We’ve had enough time to make a deliberate decision. There’s no point in waiting any longer.”