For a state that prides itself on transportation innovation, Indiana is woefully behind when it comes to passenger rail service.
A map of the passenger rail network in the Chicago metropolitan area shows the results of continued investment — but only on the Illinois side. Indiana has just one rail line, not a web.
It has been more than a century since Indiana has made a significant investment in its commuter rail network.
For commuters, the decision to expand the South Shore Line now should be easy. Instead of the hassle and expense of driving to the Loop, a passenger on a rail car has extra time to check email, read reports or maybe just relax.
The dollars and cents make sense at the macro level, too.
A study by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, still in draft form, says a fully built-out West Lake Corridor expansion would generate $147 million in new income for the region by increasing access to high-paying jobs in Chicago.
There are more jobs within walking distance of the South Shore stations in Chicago than in all of Northwest Indiana, and jobs in Chicago pay an average of 39 percent more than jobs in Northwest Indiana.
Improving access to those jobs isn't bringing the jobs to Indiana, but it's still economic development. It's bringing those salaries home.
Extending rail service south to Dyer, the first step toward ultimately expanding to Lowell and Valparaiso, is expensive. But proponents say it can be done without a tax increase.
A portion of Lake County's new County Economic Development Income Tax would be contributed by the county and by municipalities. Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, would like the county to chip in $2 million to $3 million per year.
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which should be reauthorized and funded by the state, should chip in as well.
The federal government would pay about half of the project cost.
Other proposals have been called game-changers, but this one truly deserves that description.
Extending the South Shore could do more for the region's economy than any project since Bethlehem Steel was built in Porter County in the 1960s.
"This is a generational opportunity to create jobs. The time is now," said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind.
The time has come to expand the South Shore Line. Fund it. Build it. Do it now.