Critics of a proposed South Shore extension between Valparaiso and northern Lake County argue a study showing such a line would attract only about 526 more riders per day confirms the plan is not needed.
"Whatever their plan is now, it should not involve the taxpayers of Porter County," Porter County Commissioner Robert Harper said Tuesday.
At a legislative hearing in October, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District officials said they would drop further study of a Munster-to-Valparaiso route and begin study of a Gary-to-Valparaiso route.
"We think this alternative Valparaiso service needs to be looked at," NICTD Planning and Marketing Director John Parsons said Tuesday. "It may not bear fruit right away. But it needs to be done."
At the hearing, NICTD officials said the projected cost of $673 million for the Munster-to-Valparaiso route as well as low projected ridership would have made it ineligible for federal funding.
Since then, Harper obtained parts of NICTD's South Shore extension study, which has not yet been released to the public, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Those documents show a South Shore system with extensions to both Lowell and Valparaiso would attract 11,853 riders per day. A system with just a Lowell extension but no Valparaiso leg would attract 11,327 riders per day, according to the study.
Harper is questioning why NICTD officials think a Gary-to-Valparaiso leg would attract any more riders than a Munster-to-Valparaiso leg.
"There's a point at which this is just not practical any longer," Harper said.
NICTD officials contend the shorter length of a Gary-to-Valparaiso run -- as well as the chance to use existing tracks there -- may make it a lower-cost alternative to the Munster-to-Valparaiso route.
NICTD plans to apply for federal funding for a preliminary engineering study and environmental survey of the Hammond-to-Lowell leg next year. Building that leg has a projected price tag of $551 million.