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Gary commits funds for South Shore extension

Visclosky

Visclosky

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Updated: May 2, 2014 6:33AM



Gary on Monday became the latest municipality to sign on to the proposed South Shore Line extension, but the project isn’t a certainty yet because it’s taking longer for the eight remaining communities to decide whether they will provide money for the project.

About six months ago, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, set March 31 as the deadline for communities to commit funds for the project. He has been meeting with local officials on the merits of the proposed eight-mile extension, which would run south from Hammond along the old Monon Corridor to Munster and Dyer.

Visclosky has estimated that the extended commuter line would cost between $571 million and $615 million, and he’s encouraged Lake County municipalities to commit 34 percent of their revenue from the new county economic development income tax for the local funding match for the rail line. About $3.1 million is needed for the project to get a green light. Most of the financial commitments will last a decade.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson will request Tuesday that the city council OK $100,000 of the city’s CEDIT money in 2015 and 20 percent annually starting in 2016, but with certain caveats.

“We are stipulating that the joint funding source be available for expansion, investment along the existing South Shore route and the expansion of bus transportation,” Freeman-Wilson said. “While we understand the investment that this project represents, we must also prioritize the need to improve compensation for our public safety and infrastructure workers and will focus on this area in 2014 and 2015.”

On April 7, the Crown Point City Council will meet and likely discuss possible funding.

The East Chicago City Council will meet April 7, and council president Lenny Franciski said it’s about 90 percent likely that it will vote on the measure then.

“We’re currently talking to our financial advisors to see what we could afford to give,” he said.

Other communities that have yet to announce a decision include Hammond, Cedar Lake, New Chicago, Lowell, St. John and Merrillville. Ten governments and agencies have pledged funds for the rail extension, including Lake County, the Regional Development Authority and the Indiana General Assembly.

As of Monday afternoon, the Regional Development Authority had dedicated $8 million; Munster $279,623; Dyer $53,000; Griffith $20,000; Highland $114,883; Hobart $171,000; Lake Station $69,120; Schererville $212,000; Whiting $101,892; Winfield $15,347; and Lake County $2.14 million. The legislature closed a tax loophole that directs $4 million annually toward operating the train line.

Construction of the extended commuter line would start in 2020, and trains would run by 2022, officials have said.



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