U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is praising 11 communities and Lake County for pledging money to the South Shore expansion and urging the remaining eight to get on board.
"April 1 marks a seminal moment in Northwest Indiana," Visclosky said in a statement Monday. "Most communities and state leaders have made the decision to act and commit to the extension of the South Shore Rail Line. I anticipate additional actions and commitments in the coming days."
Visclosky issued his statement on the day of his own self-imposed deadline for rounding up commitments from all Lake County communities. He said he anticipates additional municipalities will make commitments in the coming days.
Visclosky's tip of the hat to the 11 communities and Lake County comes a day after Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson signaled her city is ready to make the single largest contribution to date to the South Shore expansion.
Freeman-Wilson said she will ask the City Council to commit 20 percent of the city's proceeds from the county economic development income tax to the project. That would work out to a commitment of $793,900 annually based on current proceeds from the tax.
The mayor made it clear her commitment is contingent on improvements along the existing South Shore Line and an expansion of regional bus service by Gary Public Transportation Corp.
The first trains are not expected to run on the 8-mile extension until 2023. Construction could start in 2020. The project has an estimated price tag of $571 million.
The commitments pledged so far would would total $3.2 million annually. Gary's pledge, which would start in 2016, would swell that figure to nearly $4 million.
Under Visclosky's best-case scenario, about $7.5 million in annual commitments would be rounded up from municipalities and Lake County.
The commitment would last as long it takes to pay off the bonds needed to finance the project.
The next two largest contributions could come from Hammond and East Chicago, because after Gary they reap the largest proceeds from the county's economic development income tax. Neither has committed funds at this point.
The money being pledged by localities and Lake County will be added to $8 million per year already pledged by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and $4 million more from local casino revenue funds approved by the General Assembly. That $4 million also will flow through the RDA.