EDITORIAL: Help rail deliver long-term benefits

2014-03-04T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Help rail deliver long-term benefits nwitimes.com
March 04, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.'s tunnel vision and lack of regional leadership were evident once again Friday when he persuaded a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee to denounce Senate Bill 367. That's the legislation that would grease the wheels to expand South Shore service to Dyer.

What a contrast to the leadership shown that same day by the Northwest Indiana Forum, which supports the provision in SB 367 that would provide $4 million a year to amass money for the initial years of operation for the South Shore route to Dyer.

McDermott wants that money to go back to the cities where he says it was generated. But those cities never saw it in the first place. This is "found money" from the elimination of a tax break, intended for the poor, that was misapplied to people who don't have jobs but live off their investments.

McDermott convinced NIRPC's legislative committee, which he chairs, to oppose designating that $4 million a year for the South Shore extension operating costs. It will be up for a vote by the NIRPC executive committee on Friday.

This is for a project U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., correctly calls a "generational imperative."

Transportation is what made this region what it is today. Building the rail line — on a right-of-way already purchased for that purpose — will quickly generate construction jobs, of course, but when the rail line begins operating, it also will provide easy access to plentiful, high-paying jobs in Chicago or bring investment in commercial and professional development in our region.

A project with this much economic development potential hasn't been seen in Northwest Indiana since the 1960s. Half a century later, this opportunity must not pass us by.

Shortsightedness by McDermott and others with that same misguided view should not doom a project that will bring great benefit to all of Lake County — including Hammond, which would see a new train station built.

NIRPC's executive committee should support the legislation that supports the South Shore extension — and so should the region's legislative delegation.

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