EDITORIAL: Deliver local dollars for rail expansion

2014-02-28T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Deliver local dollars for rail expansion nwitimes.com
February 28, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Saturday marks the beginning of a new month. It could either be a March backward or a march forward, depending on what Lake County's municipalities and the Indiana General Assembly decide.

Time is running short for communities to make the necessary commitment to funding the South Shore expansion to Dyer.

Even Dyer, which stands to gain enormously and sooner than other communities, has yet to ante up.

This week, President Barack Obama began promoting a big investment in surface transportation, which includes rail as well as highways. But there are no guarantees there.

And for as much as Obama wants to emphasize commuter rail service, the chances of getting a significant funding boost from Congress are slim. Competition for federal dollars is heating up.

That's why U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., wants municipalities and the state to pony up money now for their share of the South Shore Line expansion to Dyer.

This year, the non-federal match for the project is 50 percent. But with increasing demand for that money, the non-federal match is likely to increase. And that's if the program still exists after this year.

The deadline for applying is March 31, and filling out the paperwork takes time.

The Indiana General Assembly should pass a version of Senate Bill 367 that directs the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority spend the money "only to establish or improve public mass transportation systems in Lake County." In other words, to amass money to pay operating costs for the South Shore extension for the first five years.

And Lake County municipalities have two weeks to commit 34 percent of their economic development income tax for a commuter rail project that promises to have the biggest impact on Northwest Indiana's economy since Bethlehem Steel was built in the early 1960s.

Lake County's municipalities need to commit their share of the funding for this project, and soon, or tell the public what they intend to do with that economic development money.

State law allows it to be used for any purpose, but it's called an economic development tax for a reason. Lake County needs jobs, and the South Shore extension would deliver them.

Don't let this new tax money be squandered on raises for employees when it can be invested in beefing up the transportation network and creating jobs for citizens.

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