NIRPC supports South Shore, RDA

2013-12-13T14:00:00Z 2013-12-13T17:40:10Z NIRPC supports South Shore, RDABy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on Thursday joined the push for expanded South Shore service and a fully funded Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

Votes in support of three resolutions on those subjects came after most of 300 people attending Thursday's meeting for the vote on the Illiana Expressway had left. The NIRPC full board swiftly passed all three.

One resolution supported increased financial support and expansion of the South Shore commuter railroad; a second called for continuation of the state's $10 million annual contribution to the RDA; and a third authorized an ad hoc NIRPC committee to examine and report on the composition of the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore.

The first resolution is directly targeted at exploiting one of Northwest Indiana's greatest resources, which is the global port city next door named Chicago, according to RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna.

The South Shore brings people to jobs in Chicago that pay 40 percent higher than similar jobs in Indiana with the average South Shore commuter having an average annual household income of $82,000 per year, according to the resolution.

For the South Shore expansion, the Indiana General Assembly would have to appropriate money or authorize a local tax to pay about half the estimated $615 million cost.

All three resolutions are aimed at building support before the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January, as all three propositions could eventually require action there.

On the possible reconstituting of the NICTD board, State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, told the NIRPC board the Region needs to go to the General Assembly with a united front if it wants to change the makeup of the board.

Continuing the state's share of RDA funding would also take General Assembly action. In addition to the $10 million per year it receives from the state, the RDA also receives $3.5 million in casino funds each year from Hammond, East Chicago and Gary. Lake County kicks in the same amount of casino funds. Porter County uses an economic development tax for its $3.5 million contribution.

Under the RDA's enabling legislation, the state would make its last $10 million payment to the RDA in 2015.

Hanna said the RDA brings in about $2.60 in outside investment for every $1 it spends. Using that math the state's $10 million annual contribution results in $36 million in investment locally. In turn, those investments generate tax revenue for the state.

"Our argument for the state is that this is an investment that will benefit state coffers in the long-term," Hanna said.

Legislation introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly that proposed giving cities seats on the NICTD board was assigned to a legislative committee. The NIRPC ad hoc committee is to issue a report on the composition of the NICTD board for the legislative committee.

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