MERRILLVILLE | U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky on Wednesday called for a March 31 deadline to resolve issues thwarting improvements to the South Shore rail line and the creation of a regional bus system.
Solve the problems and then, "Go and build it," Visclosky said during comments to about 650 participants in the 2013 One Region annual luncheon in the ballroom at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza.
He said the region should seize on the opportunity to avail itself of more than $200 million the federal government would give the region to help pay the more than $400 million needed to expand the commuter rail line, which he said is key to economic development.
Visclosky, D-Merrillville, likened Northwest Indiana to the hamlet depicted in the 13th-century tale of the "Pied Piper of Hamelin," whose leaders asked someone else to fix their problems, refused to pay him and then suffered the loss of all the village children. His speech was forceful and impassioned, as he spoke of what already has been accomplished in the region and what still needs to be done.
Visclosky said doing away with the Regional Development Authority, a funding mechanism for projects benefiting the region, would be "a catastrophic decision," though it has been suggested by some.
"Work still needs to be done," Visclosky said. He exhorted residents and officials to press Indiana's General Assembly in the next session that begins Jan. 1 to ask for more money for the economic development agency.
He cited Chicago's sprawling mass transit system, able to get people to jobs throughout the city and suburbs, while Northwest Indiana continues to have just one rail line.
Polls of young people indicate they're more willing to use mass transit than their elders, and that they want transit available close to their homes, Visclosky said.
The region has seen population and median income decline since 1970, in a time when the nation's population has grown, Visclosky said.
"You had to work hard to decrease population," Visclosky said. "The pied piper has taken our children."