U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky wants the South Shore expansion to be put on the fast track. So do we.
Visclosky, D-Ind., urged Indiana lawmakers last week to fund a South Shore extension to at least Dyer, if not all the way to Lowell.
"I am certain that creating such an investment tool would inure to the benefit of not only the people in the region, but (also) to the profit of the entire state," Visclosky told a legislative study committee.
Visclosky has been pushing for expansion of South Shore service for nearly 20 years, and for good reason. Extending the commuter rail service is good economic development.
The South Shore takes riders to high-paying jobs in downtown Chicago. They bring their paychecks back home, where it stimulates the local economy.
A study done for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District several years ago found wages for comparable jobs were higher in Cook County than in Northwest Indiana in every category except manufacturing.
Providing commuter rail service is not cheap. Extending the line just to Dyer, about eight miles, would cost $464.4 million. The federal government would pay about half the cost.
The benefits of extending commuter rail service are obvious when you look at a map of Chicago area commuter rail lines, as Visclosky is fond of doing. On the Illinois side, there is a healthy network of rail lines that have encouraged economic growth along the routes.
On the Indiana side, there's a single line, stretching from the state line to South Bend.
Extend commuter rail service, and you'll encourage transit-oriented development. It's a higher population density than most communities are accustomed to, but it's ideal for commuters. It puts them within an easy walk or bike ride to the train station and to basic amenities like restaurants and other shops.
Trains also are more environmentally friendly than the swarm of automobiles it would take for all those commuters who could be riding the rails.
Visclosky is right. Building the West Lake Corridor is urgent.
This is where transportation meets economic development. Improving access to high-paying jobs in Chicago would pay dividends for the region, not just for individual riders.
Indiana lawmakers must find a way to provide the local share of the money to build that rail line.