This article underwritten by: Renetta DuBose
Rail Expansion To Keep Region Young, Boost Economy
September 12, 2013 — The decline in north Lake County population is being blamed for the lack of transportation options many young people utilize in larger areas.
The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions, a committee of Indiana lawmakers chaired by State Representative Ed Soliday, met in Portage to discuss adding a second port, the future of transit and other issues that impact the region.
First District U.S. Congressman Pete Visclosky testified before the committee about the potential and challenges of transit in Northwest Indiana. Visclosky said the region is aging and declining. He said that people between the ages of 16 and 34 leave the area for larger urban areas because they are not driving as much and prefer public transit.
He told the state legislative committee that the South Shore rail line, which connects Chicago to the region, needs to be expanded to include south Lake County, “I ask for your assistance in fashioning a permanent, non-federal source of matching revenue to expand the South Shore line to the communities of Lowell and Valparaiso. I am certain that creating such an investment tool would benefit not only the people in our region, but profit the entire state.”
State Rep. Edward DeLaney, a member of the committee, told Congressman Visclosky that the region’s chances for help from the state look better than it did in previous years.
“One of the things that’s held the legislature back from helping Northwest Indiana is the failure of Lake County to have an income tax,” said Rep. DeLaney, District 86.
Officials with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District presented a strategic business plan at the meeting. Current expansion projects include Lowell, Valparaiso and the existing line that spans from Chicago to South Bend.
Both Visclosky and NICTD officials stressed the importance of federal and non-federal funding in order for expanded transit to take place. A NICTD presenter said permanent local funding in other areas have included sales and income taxes.
Visclosky said the expansion will ensure that younger people choose to live, work and raise their families in the Region, “For example, Washington, DC experienced a large amount of commercial development when Metro rail was constructed. In the years of its completion, 97% of the regional economic development took place in close proximity to Metro stations,” said Visclosky.
NICTD officials reported to the committee that the area north of Interstate 80/94, where trains run, has been declining since 2011. They noted population growth in south Lake County communities.
Click link to see Representative Visclosky’s testimony transcript: 9-12-13 Congressman Pete Visclosky testimony to Indiana legislative committee