The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) 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 yesterday. The plan incorporates the West Lake Corridor expansion project as well as improvements to the existing line that will boost efficiency, reliability and safety.
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 8-mile extension to Dyer.
If brought to fruition, it would be the largest set of projects implemented on the line in at least 90 years.
“We believe you just shouldn’t show bits and pieces of the pie and ask people to step up with their support,” said Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority CEO Bill Hanna. “You should present the whole picture.”
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 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. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, who has 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, and it would be built between 2018 and 2022.
RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna said Cedar Lake, East Chicago and Hammond have yet to make a decision on whether to commit a portion of their county economic development income tax revenues. If the local match comes up a bit short, he said the RDA could rearrange the start dates on some of its other projects because they believe in West Lake so strongly.
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.
“If you think about it in terms of the infrastructure we all enjoy and utilize in Northwest Indiana today, unless we do something to improve that tomorrow, it won’t be here for those who follow us,” he said. “Somebody paid for what we have today. It’s our obligation, but also our opportunity to do so for those who come tomorrow.”