Gary mayor backs South Shore expansion

2014-03-31T22:45:00Z 2014-04-01T11:39:09Z Gary mayor backs South Shore expansionKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Gary is expected to become the biggest Lake County city to help foot the bill for the South Shore extension.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said in a prepared statement Monday night that she will ask the City Council to approve a motion appropriating 20 percent of the city's county economic development income tax starting in 2016 toward the expansion. The city would give $100,000 in 2015 for the project. 

Freeman-Wilson said the city plans to stipulate the money also has to be used to make improvements on the current route and toward expanding bus transportation.

By Friday, 10 communities and Lake County had pledged a total of $3.2 million annually to build the South Shore extension. Visclosky wants all 19 municipalities and Lake County to contribute.

The extension would run 8 miles from Hammond to Dyer and cost an estimated $571 million to build. The first trains are not expected to run on the extension until 2023. Construction could start in 2020.

Under a strategic plan being developed for the South Shore, a separate funding plan would pay for improvements such as $35 million in Gary station improvements. Freeman-Wilson emphasizes improvements like those are a key to future development in Gary, particularly along its lakefront.

There are currently three South Shore train stations in Gary. 

"While we understand the investment that this project represents, we must also prioritize the need to improve compensation for our public safety and infrastructure workers and will focus on this area in 2014 and 2015," Freeman-Wilson said Monday.

Under Visclosky's best-case scenario, each locality would pledge 34 percent of its proceeds from the new county economic development income tax. So far, contributions have ranged from just 5 percent in Griffith to a full 34 percent in Munster and Schererville.

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.

Times staff writer Elvia Malagon contributed to this report. 

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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