When U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky spoke forcefully Wednesday of "recapitalization and expansion of the South Shore," the word "recapitalization" stood out for me.
The day before, I was at a planning session that looked at ways to improve South Shore Line service, and the much-discussed extension to Lowell and Valparaiso wasn't the only aspect.
Making the passenger trains go faster along the existing route would require another set of tracks.
That would enable the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore trains, to run express trains at the same time as it's running locals.
The project wouldn't be cheap, but the railroad already owns the right of way to be able to install the extra tracks.
Replacing bridges would be expensive, too, but they're too narrow now if the extra tracks are to be added.
The 13 miles closest to Chicago are especially important because that's where the delays are most likely to occur.
"Running trains faster is really important," said Kenneth Kinney, of URS Corp. His company is working on a strategic business plan, to be done by the end of May, for NICTD and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
The South Shore route between Chicago and South Bend is 90 miles, and the typical commuter won't put up with a travel time longer than 60 to 75 minutes. To me, that means Michigan City is the realistic limit for a commute to Chicago.
What would make commuting from as far as South Bend an easier sell would be to not only speed up the trains but also to make sure each train offers wi-fi and other business-class amenities, like plenty of legroom and electrical outlets, to enhance productivity on the train.
But that's an investment, too.
The key selling point for South Shore improvements, both to the existing line and for gradual (most likely) extension to Lowell and Valparaiso, is to serve Millennials who would rather not have to worry about having at least one car for every adult in the household.
"Young professionals want to live in vibrant urban regions and not be totally dependent on cars," Kinney said. I've heard that from many others as well.
They also want to have options for dining and night life within walking distance of their home, too. That means rethinking development as we've known it in Northwest Indiana. This is the transit-oriented development you've heard about.
That's good for the region, too. Members of the middle class earn 40 percent more per capita on the Illinois side of the Chicago metro area than in Indiana, said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna.
So bring home the bacon, and lots of it, by improving South Shore service. See why Visclosky is so eager to recapitalize the South Shore?