U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is right to push for the South Shore extension. This train could, and should, be an even bigger economic engine than it already is.
Extending commuter rail service will be expensive, but it opens easy access to a vast job market in Chicago's Loop.
A study done by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District found salaries average 38 percent higher in the Loop than in Northwest Indiana. Only in manufacturing were Northwest Indiana salaries higher.
And there are more jobs within walking distance of the Millennium Park station at the end of the South Shore's line than there are in Lake and Porter counties combined.
Sending commuters to Chicago brings those big paychecks home to Northwest Indiana.
At One Region's annual meeting in September, Visclosky made a forceful argument for the West Lake Corridor project to Dyer. Northwest Indiana's young people have been led elsewhere by higher salaries, a situation that could be rectified by providing easier access to high-paying jobs.
Visclosky set a deadline of March 31 for identifying a local funding mechanism so the project can go forward. The time is now.
In testimony before the Sept. 13 meeting of the Indiana General Assembly’s Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions, Visclosky said, "We need to have expanded South Shore service so that young, talented people realize that Northwest Indiana, with our affordable housing and low tax rates, and with access to the economy, culture, sports, and entertainment of Chicago, is the place to live, raise a family, and yes – invest in new jobs."
Visclosky told The Times Editorial Board recently he is confident the federal government will continue to provide $11 billion for public transportation projects next year, but demand for that money is increasing as other areas see the wisdom of investing in public transit.
The state should provide some of the money for this commuter rail extension, as should the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. But they shouldn't be expected to be the only ones pulling the freight for this passenger service.
It's up to officials in Lake County to come up with at least a portion of the local match so the project can go forward.
Extending the South Shore holds great promise for bringing greater wealth -- from high salaries in the Loop -- to Northwest Indiana. The federal government will help, but not without some local skin in the game.
It's time to invest in commuter rail for Northwest Indiana's future.