HAMMOND — The proposed South Shore railroad extension to Dyer gained an important ally Monday night.
The Hammond City Council on Monday voted 7-1 in favor of a resolution giving conditional support to the planned West Lake Extension Corridor Project.
Under the agreement, Hammond would commit up to $27 million for the West Lake Extension Corridor Project if certain conditions are met.
The conditions include a new Gateway Station, a maintenance facility to be located west of Sheffield Avenue and north of Hoffman Street, and a South Hammond station at approximately 173rd Street and Lyman Avenue. An appropriations ordinance would have to be approved before the money could be allocated and Councilman Robert Markovich, D-at large, said he would need more information than he received Monday before voting in favor of such an ordinance.
“At the last minute, it’s getting rammed down our throats basically,” Markovich said. He said he would have liked some work study sessions and a public hearing on the issue.
According to the resolution approved Monday if the new stations and maintenance facility are built in Hammond it would result in approximately a $300 million investment in the city.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. emphasized the economic benefit when making his case to the City Council.
“You are not going to find too many places where you can get a 10 to 1 return on your money,” McDermott told council members prior to the regularly scheduled meeting.
McDermott said much of the money would be going to the 2nd District, which is an area of the city he indicated was vitally in need of assistance.
Mike Noland, general manager of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, said there would be about 100 railroad jobs created from the project and anticipated most of them being in Hammond.
McDermott told the council that the deal being considered Monday was the result of a lot of negotiation. Councilman Pete Torres, D-2, said the project was still going to go forward if the city did not vote for the project, but Hammond would get less benefit from it.
“Do you want to be on the train or do you want to be on the sidelines complaining,” McDermott asked council members.
Councilman Bill Emerson, D-4, voted against the resolution and indicated the vast majority of his constituents he heard from were opposed to the project. Resident Donna Dunn said from her review it appeared at least 60 homes would be destroyed and thought the money Hammond would commit to the project could be used for better uses.
“This is a bad deal for Hammond,” she told the council.
If what is referred to as the “Hammond alternative” is included as the preferred alternative in the Environmental Impact Study and adopted by the NICTD board of trustees and other contingencies are met, the city would provide up to $900,000 per year for up to 30 years toward the project under the proposal. The money would come out of the city’s share of Lake County economic development income tax revenue.
If all necessary approvals and funding is secured, Noland said construction could start on the project in 2020 and operations could begin in August 2022.