EDITORIAL: Grease the wheels of rail expansion

2013-04-25T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Grease the wheels of rail expansion nwitimes.com
April 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The path to extension of commuter rail service to south Lake County has been stalled for years, but not derailed. The Indiana General Assembly's study of the issue this summer could finally grease the wheels of progress.

Legislation requiring that review by the General Assembly's transportation and infrastructure study committee was signed into law last week by Gov. Mike Pence.

In looking at the South Shore extension options, the committee will also consider whether Lake County should have a majority of seats on the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Board. The majority of the South Shore's riders are from Lake County.

There have been studies in the past that looked at the South Shore's expansion options, but those have been on the shelf awhile. It's time to update the numbers.

A study done for NICTD showed Chicago salaries were higher than their Northwest Indiana counterparts in every sector except manufacturing. In some case, the salaries were substantially higher.

It shouldn't be difficult to update those figures, nor to look at the costs for stations and routes, nor funding alternatives.

Economic development normally centers on bringing jobs here, but it also can include improving commuting options for high wages elsewhere.

Eventually, development along commuter rail lines should be expected, as has happened in the Illinois suburbs where commuter rail is more prevalent. Unlike buses, whose routes can be changed quickly, rails show a permanent commitment to providing public transportation. That encourages development near train stops.

Extending South Shore service is about jobs -- not just construction jobs to build the line and train jobs to transport people, but also to provide amenities to commuters near the stations and to gain access to existing Chicago jobs that pay well.

It is also about the environment. Cleaner air results from having fewer cars on the road. 

The primary stumbling block to extending South Shore service has been to identify the local match necessary to fund the expansion and to subsidize the resulting operations.

Federal money is still available, although the competition is fierce. But the longer the region waits to develop this rail spur, the more the competition for federal funds will grow.

The Indiana agreement to study funding for a passenger rail line extension to south Lake County is a smart move. It's time to firm up a proposal so the project can go forward.

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