RICH JAMES: South Shore expansion might be chugging along

2014-01-31T00:00:00Z 2014-02-01T19:16:33Z RICH JAMES: South Shore expansion might be chugging alongBy Rich James nwitimes.com
January 31, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Lake County elected officials too often expend more energy finding excuses as to why they can't do something as opposed to getting something done.

That applies to Republicans and Democrats.

It has been going on for years. The local officials, for example, have found countless reasons why there is no need to add additional routes to the South Shore rail line.

And, for two generations, Lake County folks have talked about the need for an Illiana Expressway from Interstate 65 into Illinois, but managed to come up with enough excuses to block the new road.

And for an even longer period, a lot of folks here wouldn't even think about enacting a county option income tax, even though the state’s 91 other counties had done so.

The naysayers would have no part with any of those projects. And the supporters pretty much turned their backs.

That was then. Things are changing.

The Illiana Expressway has been approved.

And Lake County has an income tax, thanks to the courageous stand of Commissioner Mike Repay, who was a staunch opponent of the tax until he saw the need for the money.

That pretty much brings us to South Shore expansion. And things are looking up, thanks in part to Repay.

Other than the opposition from those who don’t want a South Shore train running with miles of their homes, the hang up with commuter rail expansion has been money.

That, too, is coming into focus.

Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky represents us in Congress and sits high on the House Appropriations Committee.

Yeah, Visclosky has access to the money that can make South Shore expansion a reality.

Even though Visclosky has had access to South Shore expansion money for a couple of decades, there hasn't been any local match money. And there’s been virtually no effort to identify a funding source.

And if a funding source had been identified, most officials would have found a reason not to enact a tax for the South Shore.

But now that might be about to change.

Repay is carrying the ball to use some of the income tax he once opposed to serve as part of the local match for South Shore expansion. He’s talking $2 million to $3 million per year. It is a wonderful plan because there wouldn't be a need for a new tax.

The local communities that get part of the income tax would be asked to chip in as well.

The state of Indiana, which would reap financial benefit from South Shore expansion, also would be expected to contribute.

Some county officials besides Repay will have to vote to spend the money on the South Shore.

And, hopefully local officials are all out of excuses as to why that wouldn't be a good idea.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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