Just last weekend, I was part of a group of ten that took the South Shore into the city to celebrate my daughter’s birthday.
It’s been a “few” years since I regularly rode the rails as a commuter from East Chicago and then Miller - but not much has changed.
It’s still a great way to travel from Northwest Indiana to Chicago and back.
Originally established in 1901 as the Chicago & Indiana Air Line Railway and renamed the Chicago Lake Shore and South Bend Railway in 1904, the South Shore is “America's last electric interurban railroad,” according to "Moonlight in Duneland: The Illustrated Story of the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad."
South Shore service extends from South Bend Airport (which is on Eastern time) with stops at Hudson Lake in LaPorte County (CST), Carroll Avenue and 11th Street in Michigan City, Beverly Shores, Dune Park, Portage/Ogden Dunes, Miller, Gary Metro Center and Airport, East Chicago and Hammond in Indiana before crossing the state line with stops at Hegewisch, 63rd Street, 57th Street, McCormick Place, Museum Campus/11th Street and Van Buren Street before reaching the end of the line at Millennium Station and Randolph Street.
Currently, South Shore riders generate $14 million in annual income and sales tax revenue for the state of Indiana, according to a study performed by Policy Analytics of Indianapolis.
On March 10 at 6 p.m., Emerging Leaders of Northwest Indiana, a collaboration of local professional groups supporting commuter rail and other regional initiatives that are key to Northwest Indiana’s future, is hosting “Laying Tracks for the Future,” an informational event at the Avalon in Merrillville in support of rail expansion – a topic that has been debated for as long as I can remember with little or no real progress.
Attendees will have the opportunity to hear the benefits of the South Shore line expansion from Hammond to Dyer, as well as hearing first-hand accounts from professionals based in Northwest Indiana whose lives would change with more access to Chicago.
Congressman Pete Visclosky, Representative for Indiana’s 1st Congressional District, is the keynote speaker.
According to Visclosky, “expanding the South Shore Rail Line will give us the opportunity to increase connectivity to Chicago, one of the world's largest economies. Since 1970, Lake County has experienced a decline in population and median income. In order to reverse these trends we must connect the great resources and investments already made in Northwest Indiana to Chicago.”
More recently, Purdue University Calumet, Purdue North Central and Valparaiso University have joined other regional educational institutions and businesses in supporting expansion of South Shore commuter rail in Lake County.
The “Crossroads of America” finds itself at a crossroad, fueled by the need to retain and attract young professionals to live in Northwest Indiana, according to William Lowe, chancellor of Indiana University Northwest and co-chairman of One Region.
“We have an opportunity to invest in our region, and the lives of our young, emerging leaders and, ultimately, our future economic growth through the expansion of the South Shore Line . . . The benefits of commuter rail expansion have truly transformative potential. It is estimated such investment could easily outperform the economic impact of any single project since the establishment of Bethlehem Steel, breathing more than $147 million per year into our local economy by way of paychecks commuting back to Northwest Indiana from Chicago,” he added in a Times Guest Commentary last week. “Our quality of life is dependent upon our ability to help reverse the ‘brain drain’ and the demographic graying of the region. It is the future of our region, and that of our young leaders, that is at stake.”
It has been estimated that at the start of the construction phase, the Dyer extension would add $5 million to Indiana’s revenue. Once trains are fully operational, that figure could swell to $45.9 million by 2033. With enough support, construction of the 8-mile rail extension to Dyer could start in 2020.
The Emerging Leaders Network is joining the call to action for local funds to make the South Shore extension a reality.
Half of the $571 million price tag for the project must be raised at the local or state level in order to qualify for the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which could fund the other half of the project. About $16 million annually would need to be committed locally for the life of the project in order for it to qualify for the 50 percent match from the New Starts program.
Learn more by watching a compelling video, South Shore Rail Extension – The Time is Now! online - a short informational video can be seen on YouTube at youtu.be/CK4bgVOG3xI and a longer version of the video can be seen on YouTube at youtu.be/4HTi-ouGRYQ.
Take this opportunity to become better informed about the plan proposed to make a major investment in Northwest Indiana’s infrastructure. Tracks for the future not only promise economic rewards for the state and region, they will also have a positive impact on the value of our homes.