EAST CHICAGO | U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky told more than 200 business people Wednesday he is serious about his end-of-March deadline for raising money from local communities for the South Shore extension to Dyer.
"We are missing one piece for this important investment and that's a commitment from more local communities," Visclosky told Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce members and others in an Ameristar Casino ballroom.
Visclosky spoke just one day after his pitch for funding before the Griffith Town Council on Tuesday night was met with a cool reception. Griffith is one of 14 Lake County communities that have not yet pledged to the project.
So far, Lake County, Highland, Hobart, Munster and Whiting have stepped up to the plate, pledging a portion of their newfound wealth from the county's economic development income tax to the South Shore project. Their combined annual pledge totals nearly $2.8 million, but about $4.7 million more is needed.
"We've been talking about this for 27 years. That's more than a generation," Visclosky said. "It's time to make a decision."
Lakeshore Chamber Executive Director David Ryan said local town and city councils should be mindful of the true purpose of the economic development income tax.
"It's not there to build roads, city halls or firehouses," Ryan said. "Those are all good things. But the economic development income tax is there for economic development."
In February, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority pledged an $8 million annual contribution to the South Shore extension. This month, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation that will direct $4 million more annually to the RDA for the project.
On Wednesday, Visclosky and the project received a mostly warm reception from the crowd of businesspeople and others, but they still had questions about the project.
Laura Mannion, of Franciscan Alliance, wanted to know if there was any long-term strategy for bus service to accommodate the new train line.
Visclosky said his present drive is focused on the South Shore extension, but noted Gary Public Transportation Corp. is having some success with expanding regional bus service. He said as South Shore planning proceeds, planners are open to the idea of expanding bus service.
"That is part of this, where both buses and trains feed off each other," Visclosky said.
Robert Garcia, of East Chicago, said he had experienced first hand the convenience of well-developed mass transit systems while serving overseas in the U.S. military. He also wanted to know how the South Shore extension will connect with other transit systems.
Bin Wu, an engineer at Purdue University Calumet, wanted to know how the new line would serve the university.
"We have a university with 10,000 students and it just cries out for something," Visclosky said. "There has to be somewhere to stop the train to maximize that potential."