MUNSTER | The town’s anticipated share of the Lake County option income tax for economic development will be earmarked for expansion of mass transit and the long-awaited Calumet Avenue/45th Street grade separation.
Munster officials estimate the town will receive $822,420.72 during 2014 to be used for economic development. The money will be placed in the county economic development income tax, or CEDIT, fund created by the Town Council.
The Munster Town Council voted unanimously to allocate 34 percent of the total, or $279,623, to mass transit funding for expansion of the South Shore rail lines.
The remaining $542,797.72 of estimated CEDIT funds will be obligated to pay for design engineering of the grade separation. The overpass/underpass project will relieve the major traffic congestion at the railroad tracks at 45th Street and Calumet Avenue.
Munster will pay 100 percent of the expenses for the grade separation design engineering and be reimbursed 80 percent by federal grants, said Town Manager Tom DeGiulio.
Allocating the 34 percent of CEDIT funding to mass transit expansion was proposed by DeGiulio and Town Council President Joseph Simonetto after the two participated in a working group discussion convened on Dec. 17 by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.
The working group is composed of officials from area municipalities, Lake County government, state legislators and economic development organizations. The group decided to ask communities to allocate 34 percent of their CEDIT funds to build a fund in anticipation of actual start up, DeGiulio said.
“Mass transit is high on Visclosky’s radar,” he said.
Munster is taking a leadership role in setting this money aside for mass transit, DeGiulio and Simonetto said.
“As one of the communities that will receive the biggest economic impact from the (South Shore) train coming through town, we feel it is important to be at the forefront,” DeGiulio said to introduce the CEDIT spending plan.
The CEDIT spending plan drew praise from council members.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest (in mass transit),” said Councilman Andy Koultourides. “We think it’s in our best interest and Lake County’s.”
The mass transit funding can be reallocated to other economic development projects if the transit plan falls through, DeGiulio told the council.