Our grandparents and parents invested in the infrastructure of Northwest Indiana so we might prosper today. They built the steel mills, oil refineries, harbors, highways, and rail lines, including the South Shore, which established our region as the industrial transportation hub of our country.
Some of these endeavors came with consequences we currently are working to improve. For example, we are cleaning the Grand Calumet River and recapturing public space along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Our generation must now follow the example of our ancestors and make transformational investments today to fulfill our responsibility to future generations and provide them with an improved standard of living and a better quality of life. I believe one of these transformational investments is to improve and expand the South Shore Rail Line in this region.
I consider this a generational imperative.
We have failed to fully integrate ourselves into the $500 billion economy and 4 million jobs offered by Chicago. We have been spectators as portions of the economy and jobs of the city-state of Chicago have found fertile ground north, west and south. We have failed to provide our own mechanisms to draw young professionals to Northwest Indiana.
We have lacked initiative and therefore, we are fewer, poorer and older. Between 1970 and 2012, the population of Lake County fell by 9.6 percent, the median income decreased by 15.3 percent, and the median age increased by 43 percent. Why is this so?
These trends are occurring because we have been unable to retain and attract young people in Northwest Indiana. Young professionals are choosing to live elsewhere, including Chicago and its environs in Illinois.
The choice of where to live is easy when an individual can live near a train station that is part of the Chicago rail system with 487 miles of track in Illinois. With only 38 miles of track to Michigan City, we have failed to invest in public transit, including a robust regional bus system.
To reverse these circumstances, we must expand the South Shore Rail Line.
As a citizen, I am proud of our Lake County, city and local officials, as well as the entire Northwest Indiana legislative delegation, for their singular initiative, selfless cooperation, and profound efforts to structure the regional revenue source. This revenue source is necessary to meet the strict eligibility criteria for federal funds.
Their leadership unites us to provide a transformational investment for the most positive of reasons – the prosperity of future generations.
In the end, this investment is about connection. We must connect the great resources and investments already made in Northwest Indiana. We must connect with the Chicago economy. We must bring our children and grandchildren home.