The definition of Northwest Indiana, the drawing of its boundaries, is still fuzzy but growing more distinct.

Tonight I’ll be at an event that aims to discuss the future of LaPorte County. One giant leap the county needs to make is to firmly grasp the NWI mantle.

There have been steps in that direction, and they’re promising.

LaPorte County is a “torn between two lovers” county. There’s the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to the west, and there’s now a South Bend equivalent, the North Central Indiana Regional Development Authority.

The eastern portion of LaPorte County is tied to South Bend’s economy, despite the time-zone difference, but Michigan City, especially, is closely connected to Porter and Lake counties.

In interviewing candidates for LaPorte County commissioner prior to the election, I heard some acknowledgement that the county is starting to lean to the west.

Michigan City stands to gain tremendously by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District project that will add a second set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City. That expensive, but necessary, project will speed the commute between Chicago and Michigan City to just an hour. That will cement Michigan City’s status as within commuting distance of Chicago.

The big question LaPorte County officials now face is how to pay for that county’s share of the project.

The Northwest Indiana RDA’s study of the double-tracking project stops at the Porter/LaPorte county line, rather than its logical conclusion, because the RDA’s studies are limited to the area from which it derives its funding.

A decade ago, LaPorte County officials decided against joining the Northwest Indiana RDA. Now the county has another opportunity to hitch its wagon to NWI. The barriers to joining must be low. Pay the annual dues everyone else does, of course, but expand the RDA that already helps Lake and Porter counties to LaPorte County.

“That’s really a key issue for us to solve,” Northwest Indiana RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said recently. “Now’s a great time to talk to LaPorte County about a partnership.”

The Calumet National Heritage Area being proposed will include LaPorte County. So does Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. So does the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. So does the newly expanded NWI High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

LaPorte County is included in Northwest Indiana for state governance purposes as well.

LaPorte County has been a halfhearted member of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in the past. The county needs to recognize how closely it is tied to Northwest Indiana and act accordingly.

The county has a lot to gain from claiming its NWI birthright.

Two of the three members of the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners will be new next year, a result of the election earlier this month. Now is the right time for citizens to voice their support for being more actively engaged with the rest of Northwest Indiana.

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.