EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Expanding rail will improve jobs, environment

2014-04-06T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Expanding rail will improve jobs, environmentBy Kay Nelson nwitimes.com
April 06, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The Northwest Indiana Forum continues to support the South Shore commuter rail service in its current structure as well as the present recommendations to consider expansion.

As a private sector, nonprofit regional economic development organization with members in seven counties – Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Starke, Jasper, Newton and Pulaski — the Forum serves a highly diversified membership. The Forum develops positions based on our core mission – economic development in harmony with the environment.

Good ideas often take a few attempts before getting off the ground. As a result, the message needs to be taken to the stakeholders on more than one occasion and from various points of view to make sure the idea is fully understood. Even when a great idea has opposition, one must continue to work the process — listening to see if there are better ways to accomplish the goal and incorporating the lessons learned.

Studies have shown when mass transportation options are available, vehicle miles traveled and the associated greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Previous estimates have shown the current South Shore service improves regional air quality by eliminating 22.4 tons of volatile organic compounds, 368.8 tons of carbon monoxide, 25.2 tons of nitrogen oxide and 7.4 tons of particulate matter. South Shore passengers drove 91 million fewer miles and saved over 4 million gallons of gasoline. Imagine the continued improvements to be realized with an expanded service.

This environmental benefit is of critical importance to Northwest Indiana residents from a health as well as economic standpoint; transportation options are a significant factor. Actions that can be taken to minimize vehicle congestion should be given a high priority for implementation — be it rail, ports or commuter rail.

As Northwest Indiana continues to work to redevelop our urban core which is served by the South Shore Rail Line, there is great potential for people to move to Northwest Indiana, recognizing it is a great place to live and raise a family and still retain their jobs in Illinois. These opportunities only will be enhanced by the expanded service relieving congestion on the current line as well as the new routes.

So as we strive to create sustainable living communities with a smart growth mindset, the Northwest Indiana Forum supports expansion of  South Shore commuter rail lines.

Sustainable development is often defined as the balance of economic development, social justice and environmentally sound principles. By providing rail service, our residents will have greater choices: where to live, where to work and how to get there.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District reports non-rush hours and weekends are the fastest growing segments of ridership. Improvements and expansion of the South Shore not only will permit Indiana residents access to jobs within the Chicagoland area, but also will provide many with greater opportunities to visit Northwest Indiana and enjoy the natural beauty of our national and state parks.

Jobs, the environment and improved quality of life through access to an expanded South Shore commuter rail system are crucial to Northwest Indiana's future.

Kay Nelson is director of environmental affairs at the Northwest Indiana Forum. The opinions are the writer's.

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