Visclosky asks Griffith to punch South Shore extension ticket

2014-03-19T00:00:00Z Visclosky asks Griffith to punch South Shore extension ticketBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
March 19, 2014 12:00 am  • 

GRIFFITH | U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky told an overflow crowd Tuesday night to get behind the proposed South Shore Line extension now because another opportunity won't be coming down the tracks.

However, Griffith officials sounded more interested in rebuilding crumbling local roads and alleys.

Council President Rick Ryfa said Tuesday night, "The sentiment from the people who elect us is overwhelmingly against it."

The council did pass a resolution supporting setting aside more than 87.5 percent of the town's share of county income tax revenue to road and stormwater capital expenses and left the rest uncommitted, as a possible South Shore contribution.

Ryfa said they talk again next week about whether to give that remaining 12.5 percent to the South Shore if that isn't too little too late for Visclosky's time table.

The congressman said he has set March 31 as a deadline for Lake County and municipal officials to contribute $8 million annually for the next 20 to 30 years to build the eight-mile line.

Griffith Town Councilman Glen Gaby said he had a problem.

"Why so quickly? We haven't even seen the money and you want us to spend."

Visclosky replied, "I've heard a lot about this being a rush to judgment. We have talked about this for 27 years. Now is the time for action. Building it is a nine-year process that has to start in April," Visclosky said.

Celina Weatherwax, director of communications for Visclosky, said outside Town Hall meeting Tuesday the deadline is arbitrary, but if Visclosky doesn't get enough support, "he will move on."

Although railroad lines radiate from this downtown in all directions, few seemed enamored with the idea of an 8-mile line between Hammond and Dyer or Visclosky's argument it would attract new business growth and keep more young residents in Lake County.

Eleanor Ingram, Griffith Democratic precinct committeewoman told the congressman, "My people say why pay for something I have no use for. I need money for a car and my taxes."

"We are not doing that bad," said Cathy Lareau, of Dyer. "This is a high price tag for us."

Visclosky repeatedly said the commitment to the South Shore extension wouldn't require new taxes and would tap hundreds of millions of dollars in federal mass transit grants to help pay for it.

The proposed extension is estimated to cost about $571 million to build and another $9.6 million annually to operate enough trains.

The Indiana General Assembly has earmarked $4 million in Lake County property tax money to the project and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which is primarily funded by casino revenues, has committed another $8 million per year.

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