U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, called on state legislators Thursday to help find a solution to funding the South Shore extension, if not all the way to Lowell, then at least to Dyer.
“I am certain that creating such an investment tool would inure to the benefit of not only the people in the region, but (also) to the profit of the entire state,” Visclosky told a joint legislative committee.
After two hours of listening to preliminary results of a strategic business plan for the commuter railroad and back-and-forth-discussion of board governance, Visclosky was even more insistent the almost two-decade-old plan has to move forward now.
"This is an urgent issue," Visclosky said. "It is not something we are going to study to death."
Extending the line just to Dyer, about an 8-mile distance, would cost $464.4 million, according to earlier studies by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the operator of the line. About 50 percent of the cost would be paid for by federal grants.
The consultant conducting the strategic business plan testified other communities in the United States most frequently use sales taxes or income taxes to pay their share of commuter line construction.
The testimony was heard by seven Indiana legislators from the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions at the headquarters of the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, in Portage.
The committee also heard testimony from northern Indiana mayors on House Bill 1450, which was authored by committee Chairman Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and sponsored by Rep. Mara Candelaria-Reardon, D-Munster, in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly. The bill was pulled from consideration last session, but Soliday made it clear he is willing to give something similar a hearing again if introduced in the upcoming session.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said he favors gaining a seat on the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board, because his community would take part in both the benefits and challenges of the expansion.
"I feel giving the mayors a seat at the table would be valuable," McDermott said.
Reardon's bill would have given Lake County five representatives on a new 13-member NICTD board, with Porter and LaPorte counties both getting three and St. Joseph County two. The mayors of Hammond, East Chicago and Gary would have been among the Lake County members.
Representation on the NICTD board under current law consists of two county government officials from each of the four counties the railroad runs through, as well as three gubernatorial appointments.
Mayor James Snyder seconded McDermott's call for mayors on the NICTD board, saying it could help get needed projects going like a full-fledged South Shore station for Portage.
But St. Joseph County Commissioner Andrew T. Kostielney read a letter from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg where the mayor called for maintaining the current equal geographic representation on the NICTD board.