Momentum, Support Build for South Shore Rail Expansion

Bill Hanna sat down with Inside Indiana Business to talk about federal funding for the South Shore. Watch the clip here.

Backed by strong economic growth projections provided by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, top Indiana officials are urging federal support for the West Lake extension and South Shore Double Tracking Projects. Last week, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb made it a point to discuss the project with Vice President Mike Pence during, while Senator Todd Young made the case directly to President Donald Trump during a visit to Indiana.

“We could not be more encouraged by the level of support we are receiving as we work to transform the economy of Northwest Indiana,” said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “For a long time, leaders from our region have said that Northwest Indiana doesn’t get the attention it deserves from Indianapolis. Whether you believe that’s true or not, it certainly isn’t the case here. Local, state and federal officials, Democrats and Republicans, have come together to back commuter rail expansion because of the immense difference it will make to Hoosiers here and state-wide.”

As the Times of Northwest Indiana notes, completing the nine-mile West Lake extension from Hammond to Dyer in Lake County, and fully double tracking the existing line from Gary to Michigan City “is an all-access ticket to job creation, economic development and connectivity between Region folks and the economic engine that is the city of Chicago.” Just in Lake and Porter counties, both projects combined will spur more than $2 billion in private development around the stations, attract an estimated 11,000 new residents and create about 6,000 new permanent Indiana jobs. For complete details, download the RDA’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan.

That focus on private investment was praised by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao after she was briefed on the project during a visit to South Bend in August. “That is an application that is in progress and I will not talk more about it,” she told reporters after the meeting. “But suffice it to say, the bipartisan nature and the public-private partnership aspects of any project would be ones that are important to us. Once again, Indiana appears to be leading the way.”

Like D.C.,Chicago is also taking notice of the effort to strengthen and expand the region’s connectivity to the nation’s third-largest economy. The Chicago Tribune just featured the projects, and WGN radio in Chicago recently had Bill Hanna on to extol the region’s virtues (listen here).

The RDA continues to work closely with Indiana’s Senators and Members of Congress on securing federal matching funds for West Lake and Double Tracking. “This is a critical time for the projects,” Hanna notes. “We are committed to making them happen, both for the tremendous economic benefits, and for brighter future for our children and grandchildren they represent.”

RDA Readies Federal Funding Bid

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority today approved a resolution formalizing the RDA’s financial commitments to West Lake and Double Tracking bond issues. The Board also formally accepted reports from KPMG and Farr Associates which, along with the resolution, will be submitted to the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) tomorrow by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD).

These items are part of the package NICTD is submitting to FTA for a project rating, the first step in securing federal matching funds for West Lake and Double Tracking. This submission will come just over a week after local and state officials, including Governor Eric Holcomb, met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who praised these projects for their bipartisan nature and focus on private investment.

“For Indiana, the Crossroads of America is more than a motto—it’s a mission. Today’s actions by the RDA Board propel the northern and northwest regions of our state to capitalize on location by working to improve access to one of the nation’s largest economies, neighboring Chicago,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Connecting Indiana through double tracking the South Shore line will help take our economy to the next level by building a brighter future for Hoosiers.”

Wednesday’s resolution reinforces the RDA’s financial leadership position in funding West Lake and Double Tracking. It allows the RDA to borrow up to $750 million to cover the construction costs and debt service on the two projects. “I commend RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna and the RDA Board of Directors for demonstrating their commitment to the future of Northwest Indiana by making this tangible financial commitment to the South Shore Rail Line,” said Congressman Peter Visclosky, long-time champion of South Shore expansion and recapitalization. “The RDA’s collaborative work with NICTD and our other state, local, and community partners will have innumerable positive benefits for all current residents and generations to come.”

Projects like West Lake and Double Tracking are exactly the kind of transformative regional projects that Indiana legislators had in mind for the agency when it was created 12 years ago, said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “West Lake and Double Tracking represent the largest investment in commuter rail ever made in Indiana,” he noted. “Together, they are projected to double South Shore ridership; attract an estimated 11,000 new residents to Lake and Porter counties; create more than 6,000 new jobs in Indiana; and catalyze more than $2 billion in private investment in Lake, Porter, La Porte and St. Joseph counties over the next 20 years.”

For more details on West Lake and Double Tracking, download the RDA’s updated strategic plan at in.gov/rda. The resolution, reports and presentations from today’s board meeting can be found at here, and will be added to our in.gov/rda page shortly.