RDA Makes Major Commitment to Rail Expansion
February 7th — The Regional Development Authority (RDA) announced today that it will committ $8 million annually in matching funds for construction of the West Lake Corridor rail expansion project. According to a statement from the RDA, the funding represents a significant step forward in the first phase of the expansion.
“This is yet another significant step in transforming Northwest Indiana,” said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “What is crucial from this point on is building a partnership between local, state and federal officials to close the funding gap.” Hanna says the Town of Munster set an example of the leadership needed by recently voting to dedicate 34 percent of its share of the County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) to fund rail expansion.
Congressman Pete Visclosky has been a vocal supporter of the rail expansion. “I appreciate the commitment made today by the Regional Development Authority in support of this transformational opportunity for Northwest Indiana. Their foresight to connect our great region to the Chicago economy and to invest in our region’s future generations is commendable,” said Congressman Visclosky.
The map above shows the current expansion plan. The orange line shows the existing South Shore commuter rail line. The yellow lines represent the proposed expansions. The first phase would carry the trains south to Munster and from there east to Valparaiso. The second phase would extend the line farther south from Munster into Cedar Lake and Lowell. Under the current proposed timetable, design and engineering work would begin in 2018 and actual construction would start in 2020. Trains would be running on the West Lake Corridor by 2022.
Proponents of the expansion say it will help keep young families and college graduates in Northwest Indiana by offering easy access to higher paying jobs in Chicago, and it will raise property values. “There are literally millions of good-paying jobs in Chicago that Northwest Indiana residents could pursue if we had better access to Chicago,” Hanna said. “And there are people who would move here in a heartbeat if they had a way to get to work.”
The RDA Board also approved a $1.1 million grant to the Northwest Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which operates the South Shore line, for an environmental impact study to be completed prior to construction of the West Lake Corridor.
A source of long-term operational funding is required for the project to receive federal funding. If approved by state lawmakers, Senate Bill 367 would allocate an additional $4 million annually from casino revenues to the RDA, which would be placed in escrow to establish an operating fund for the West Lake Corridor.