MUNSTER │ Expanding the South Shore commuter service was the topic of conversation U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky brought to the Highland Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts.
The congressman said Lake County has a smaller population that is older and poorer compared to 1970. And that’s despite the country’s population growth of 52 percent since that same year.
The big reason is that young people in Lake County after college or learning new skills are leaving and not coming back.
“We need to change that by making a transformational investment in Northwest Indiana and one of the ways to do that is expand that South Shore service,” Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said.
Visclosky said people have suggested to him that if South Shore expansion happens people will leave Hammond, Gary and East Chicago.
“I’ve been very blunt,” he said. “They left.”
The congressman believes extending the South Shore will help “keep the young people we have here.”
“And I want to attract new young people to Gary, to Hammond, to East Chicago, as well as to the bridge communities in south Lake County,” he said.
For those who say young people don’t ride the train, Visclosky said statistics show people between the ages of 16 and 34 drove 23 percent less miles in 2009 than they did in 2001.
“It is estimated that by 2030 we will have 29 percent more people living the United States but we will not have driven any more miles than we did in 2004,” he said.
Visclosky said there’s nothing wrong in tying the region to the economy of Chicago, whose economy is larger than Sweden and whose average job pays more than 30 percent than a job in Northwest Indiana.
If jobs are moving out of the Chicago’s Loop, they are probably moving to the city’s northwest and west side, which are served by miles of rail service, bringing economic vibrancy to those areas.
“Maybe that can happen here, too,” he said.