South Shore Expansion On Track to the Indiana Senate

Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis House of Representatives voted 96-0 to send House Bill 1618 on to the Indiana Senate. The measure, authored by Rep. Hal Slager, creates a state grant program to fund expansion of the South Shore along the West Lake Corridor.

A second bill concerning the RDA, HB 1398, sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday, passed the House on Monday. This bill makes several technical changes to the RDA’s enabling legislation which will strengthen our case for federal matching dollars on the West Lake Corridor project.

We would like to thank Reps. Slager and Soliday, all the members of the Northwest Indiana delegation and the many Representatives statewide that are supporting our efforts to foster economic growth and development here through a stronger connection to the Chicago market. Without their vision and hard work, none of this would be possible.

Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Currently, the RDA is working with local, state and federal officials to expand South Shore service to Chicago. That expansion, the West Lake Corridor, would result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy. For more about the project and why it’s important, check out RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna’s recent interview with above.

South Shore Expansion Will Bring Jobs to Northwest Indiana

One question we hear about expanding commuter rail to Chicago is, why depend on Chicago for our jobs? Why not focus on creating good-paying jobs right here in Northwest Indiana? The answer is that expanding rail will not only improve access to jobs in Chicago, but also lay the foundation for business growth in communities throughout Lake and Porter counties as well.

In 2013, there were 677 business investment project in the Chicago metro area (including Lake and Porter counties in Indiana) according to World Business Chicago’s annual market profile. These projects represented more than 38,000 jobs and $6 billion in private investment. But of those 677 investments, Lake and Porter counties received a mere 16, while the suburban collar counties around Chicago in Illinois collected 265. You can see the full breakdown here.

Overlaid on a map of rail lines in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, the pattern becomes clear: businesses are choosing to invest in the parts of the Chicago market where the rail, and the population, are strong. Lacking that same transit connection, Northwest Indiana hasn’t been able to amass the same kind workforce depth. That means the number of companies that would consider relocating here is limited, despite our lower taxes and lower costs of living.

What this tells us is that all rungs of the development ladder must be strong when competing in a market like Chicago. In order to compete. Increased commuter access that will make us a true part of the third-largest economy in our nation, along with our other advantages, constitutes the way forward for the region. This is the strategy for new jobs, new residents and new investment right here that will turn Northwest Indiana in an established direction of success.

Rail Expansion Boosts Property Values and Disposable Income

How will expanding commuter rail in Northwest Indiana benefit those in cities and towns on or near the new line? A recent study suggests that it will increase property values and, for those riding the trains, reduce transportation costs.

A 2013 study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors found that residential home sale prices were on average 42% higher during the Great Recession in neighborhoods with proximity to transit versus further away.

Specific to Chicago, the study found that the average sale price of a residential property in the transit shed outperformed the overall market by about 30%. The study also found that those living close to transit options spent less on transportation, and had access to twice as many jobs, as those living outside the reach of transit.

Looking more broadly, the benefits of expanded connectivity to Chicago will flow throughout the region. Currently, commuters who use South Shore trains and ChicaGo Dash buses to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Building the West Lake Corridor would result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

The Indiana General Assembly is now considering House Bill 1618, which would provide state funds for the construction of the West Lake Corridor. Please contact your representative today and let them know that you support commuter rail expansion in Northwest Indiana.