No vote yet by St. John officials on donation to South Shore extension

2014-03-18T19:15:00Z 2014-03-18T22:53:05Z No vote yet by St. John officials on donation to South Shore extensionSusan Erler susan.erler@nwi.com, (219) 662-5336 nwitimes.com

ST. JOHN | The St. John Town Council came away with no decision after hearing a pitch for support of a proposed South Shore rail line extension to Dyer.

A vote is expected within two months, Town Manager Steve Kil said.

The Tuesday presentation by Mark Lopez, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, focused on what Lopez said would be economic benefits to the region of an expanded commuter railway.

"We need to diversify our economy, and we believe strongly one way to do that would be the expansion of the South Shore railroad," Lopez said.

Contributions by local communities to the cost of extending the railroad would be an investment in the future, Lopez said.

"We can leverage local dollars to grow our economy," Lopez said.

Visclosky has been asking 19 Lake County cities and towns to donate up to 34 percent of their proceeds from the new county economic development income tax.

St. John's contribution would be $108,000.

"That's 34 percent of our CEDIT money," Kil said.

Munster, Highland, Whiting and Hobart already have pledged a total $669,623. Visclosky is counting on rounding up about $7.5 million in annual funding from cities, towns and Lake County.

That would be added to $8 million per year already pledged by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and $4 million more expected following action by the Indiana General Assembly.

Council President Michael Forbes said Thursday town residents are divided on the issue. Regular commuters to Chicago generally favor a train station in Dyer, while many longtime residents don't, Forbes said.

The topic brought mixed reaction from town residents in the audience.

Jason Williams said he commuted to Chicago for eight years.

"This is going to cost the state and the region a lot of money," Williams said of the extension. "That's money that could be spent on other economic development."

Ken Schneider said he hopes the town will use its CEDIT dollars for the extension.

"I see it as an investment."

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