Thousands of jobs and new prosperity will ride into the region.
by Bill Hanna
Expanding the South Shore Line will give us the opportunity to increase connectivity to Chicago, one of the world's largest economies. Since 1970, Lake County has experienced a decline in population and median income. In order to reverse these trends we must connect the great resources and investments already made in Northwest Indiana to Chicago.
“Investing in the South Shore rail line, and all of our transportation infrastructure, is essential to creating jobs and having a sound regional economy. This investment in Northwest Indiana will provide jobs for generations to come,” says U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky.
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) presented the executive summary of their joint 20-Year Strategic Business Plan for commuter rail in Northern Indiana to members of the press recently. The plan incorporates the West Lake Corridor expansion project as well as improvements to the existing line that will boost efficiency, reliability and safety.
Of all the projects outlined in the plan, the West Lake extension is among the most impactful. By providing increased access to high-paying jobs in Chicago, the expansion project and related improvements are projected to add nearly 2,000 non-commuter jobs to the Northwest Indiana economy and add $2.5 billion annually in economic output. The South Shore 20-Year Strategic Business Plan calls for $1.16 billion total in new projects, such as station upgrades, reroutes, new double tracks and an eight-mile extension to Dyer.
The West Lake extension, which is estimated to cost around $571 million, would head south from Hammond and head into Munster and Dyer. The project has been championed by Rep. Visclosky, D-Merrillville, with secured financial commitments from most of the communities in Lake County, the Indiana General Assembly and the RDA. The project requires about 50 percent of its funds to come from local and state sources, with the balance coming from the federal government. It would be built between 2018 and 2022.
The RDA has been very encouraged by the broad support for the project and we are hopeful the few communities that have yet to pledge funds for expansion will do so in the near future. If the local match comes up a bit short, we could rearrange the start dates on some of our other projects to free up more funds. It is regrettable that other projects could suffer, but the potential economic impact of the West Lake Corridor–including thousands of construction jobs, thousands of permanent jobs in the region and access to jobs that pay, on average, 40 percent more in Chicago–is so great that it justifies sacrifices in other areas. It could be a very long time before Northwest Indiana sees another opportunity of this magnitude.
In addition to the economic benefits of rail investment, the plan represents the fulfillment of an obligation to future generations, says RDA vice chairman Harley Snyder.
Bill Hanna is President and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. Prior to his current assignment, Hanna was the city manager for Valparaiso for three years, and the economic development director for Valparaiso and vice president of the Valparaiso Economic Development Corp. Hanna earned his juris doctor from Valparaiso University, his MBA from National-Louis University in Chicago, and his bachelor's degree in organizational management and human resources from Colorado Christian University. His military career in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper from 1995 to 1999 included membership in the Army's Official Presidential Escort and service as the head trainer/guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C.