Visclosky: Don’t wait to expand South Shore
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2013 7:58PM
A South Shore train pulls into the Gary Metro stop. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:12AM
PORTAGE — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., said expanding commuter train service into Northwest Indiana will help attract young families to Indiana.
During an Indiana General Assembly infrastructure summer study committee on Thursday, Visclosky stressed the importance of transit-oriented development to draw young professionals to the region.
Visclosky cited a report by U.S. Public Interest Research Group, released in May, that showed people between 16 and 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than in 2001. He said young professionals are looking for mass transit options when they decide where to live.
“Today, Lake County is fewer, poorer and older,” Visclosky said. “We need connection through a meaningful mass transportation system in Northwest Indiana. We need connection through the expansion of the South Shore Line.”
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District General Manager Gerald Hanas said rail services provide a pipeline for higher-income families who work in Chicago but spend money in Northwest Indiana. Jobs from the Chicago area pay 39 percent more than similar jobs in northern Indiana. The average annual household income of commuters on the South Shore is about $82,000.
Two proposed transit routes from NICTD were presented during the hearing. One would head south to Lowell, the other southwest to Valparaiso.
NICTD board reorganized?
The hearing resulted from a bill considered by the General Assembly that would reorganize the NICTD board to reflect better the ridership populations in Lake County. Instead, the bill was amended to send the issue to a summer study committee.
Kenneth Kinney, a transit planning specialist from URS Corp., highlighted organizational structures for transportation authorities across the country.
“They can be focused on geography, ridership, population or where the money comes from,” Kinney said.
Many also have representatives from both county and municipal levels, he said.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said local governments need to contribute if they want to see future commuter trains. What percentage they contribute and how the NICTD board could be reorganized can all be discussed.
“We need to know what the level of engagement is going to be from the cities,” Soliday said. “Truthfully, it should be decided up here.”
Visclosky said many young residents leave Indiana for college or military service and don’t come back. If the mass transit option doesn’t expand to compete with Illinois’ rail system, Indiana’s advantages of lower taxes and affordable housing may not be enough.
“This is an issue that needs to be actively discussed. You have another state legislative session coming up in January,” Visclosky said. “What you don’t want to do is to lose another year. Time is of the essence here. We have got to start making this investment.”