Bill would pump up Lake Co. presence on NICTD board

2013-01-25T14:30:00Z 2013-01-26T00:13:08Z Bill would pump up Lake Co. presence on NICTD boardBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

A nearly unanimous Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District board on Friday blasted a bill that would increase Lake County's representation on the board from its current two members to five.

"For our board members that take this job very seriously, it's a slap in the face," said LaPorte County Councilman and NICTD Chairman Mark Yagelski after Friday's NICTD meeting.

The bill was introduced by State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, who said its intent is to assign representation on the board in proportion to where ridership comes from. She said NICTD's lack of action on the West Lake expansion also is driving the bill.

"I think it would help," she said when contacted Friday. "I think it would give more representation where ridership occurs and where there is room for expansion."

She likened her effort to change the makeup of the NICTD board to the successful effort to change the makeup of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission after the flood of 2008. Her current bill has been assigned to the House Transportation Committee chaired by State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.

The NICTD board currently is made up of one county commission president from each of the four counties along the NICTD route: one county council member from each of the four counties; one labor representative; one rider representative and one state representative.

Under Reardon's bill the four county commission presidents would remain on the board. The county councilors would lose their seats. The labor, rider and state representatives also would go away. In the biggest change, the mayors of Hammond, Gary, East Chicago, Crown Point, Valparaiso, Portage, LaPorte, Michigan City and South Bend would each get a seat on the board.

But at the NICTD board meeting at the South Shore's Dune Park station on Friday, 10 of 11 members present spoke against the bill, including Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid and Lake County Commissioner Michael Repay.

"I don't understand how this legislation came about. I have not heard any complaints on how this board is run," said Cid.

"There seems to be a perception this board doesn't represent the ridership, and that's just not true," Repay said.

A number of board members including Chairman Yagelski also pledged to vote against proceeding with a joint project to undertake a strategic marketing plan with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority if the bill remains in its current form.

"The RDA comes around whenever they want something and we don't see them any other time," Yagelski said.

RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said he had just been briefed about the bill this week and the RDA had not taken a position on it. But he said any change in the makeup of the NICTD board should in no way impact their joint project.

"I think the best way to proceed is to keep the focus on this strategic business plan," Hanna said.

The RDA's largest project in concert with NICTD was in 2006, when the RDA contributed $17.5 million toward the purchase of 14 double-decker passenger rail cars for the South Shore.


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