Dyer council mulls South Shore expansion

2014-02-13T21:15:00Z 2014-02-13T22:52:07Z Dyer council mulls South Shore expansionKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
February 13, 2014 9:15 pm  • 

DYER | Dyer Town Council members on Thursday heard a wide range of opinions on extending the South Shore commuter rail line to their suburban community of 16,400 people.

Residents' concerns ranged from the proposed rail line's effect on traffic to the need to bring more people with good-paying jobs into the community.

"We will end up gridlocking ourselves in," said resident Heather Bazzale. "To me, it's just not needed. It will congest this area even more."

But residents like Bill Wilson said if Dyer wants to sustain its town services, it needs more people with good-paying jobs moving in. He said just look at Mokena and Frankfort in Illinois to see what commuter trains can do for a community.

"We can have the same thing here," Wilson said. "We need to attract good people who have good-paying jobs."

The work session just after the 6 p.m. Dyer Town Council meeting was opened with comments from Mark Lopez, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville. Lopez said building the extension would offer communities the chance to stop decades of population decline in Lake County.

Visclosky has been working for months to rally local communities to help finance the South Shore extension by putting up a portion of their share of the new county economic development income tax.

Last week, the Munster Town Council became the first to do so when it voted unanimously to commit 34 percent of its receipts from the CEDIT to funding the South Shore expansion. That would work out to about $280,000 per year.

Dyer Councilwoman Mary Tanis pointed out much of her town's share of the tax already has been committed to other uses for this year.

The town stands to receive $354,877 as its share of the tax this year, Dyer Clerk-Treasurer Patricia Hawrot said. But 80 percent to 85 percent of that money is already committed to other uses.

The council committed to no action Thursday night. The next time it could consider any action on funding the South Shore extension would be in March.

Last week, financing for the South Shore extension made its biggest leap forward when the the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority pledged to dedicate $8 million per year to the project until all debt service would be paid off.

Half of the $571 million price tag for the project must be raised at the local or state level to qualify for the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which could fund the other half.

Park Board President Cathy Lareau said money committed to the South Shore extension could shortchange other projects that would improve the town's quality of life and make it attractive to new residents.

"We as a parks board are trying to develop the parks for the community, for 100 percent of the residents," she said.

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