EDITORIAL: Legislators must get on board rail effort

2013-09-26T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Legislators must get on board rail effort nwitimes.com
September 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It has been years since U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky began talking about extending South Shore service along the West Lake Corridor, but little has been accomplished. Visclosky is calling for action, and we're right beside him.

The cost of inaction is mounting.

On Wednesday, Visclosky told about 650 attendees at One Region's annual meeting that Northwest Indiana officials have responded the same way toward transit issues as the Hamelin city fathers did in 1284 toward the town's mouse population.

The Hamelin officials refused to pay the piper for getting rid of the mice, so he led the children away.

It's an apt analogy, given the brain drain and population loss Northwest Indiana has experienced. Since the 1970s, the region has lost 9 percent of its population even as other regions have gained population. Personal income has stalled, too.

"The Pied Piper has taken our children away from us. He has taken our wealth away from us," Visclosky, D-Ind., said.

It is a parable that should be taken to heart in Northwest Indiana.

Visclosky, a senior member of Congress, knows the federal government is expected to pay half the cost of the South Shore improvements. The stumbling block has been the nonexistent local match.

Visclosky is tired of waiting, and so are we. He's calling for a March 31, 2014, deadline for identifying a funding source for the local portion of the project. That deadline coincides with the end of the Indiana General Assembly session next year, because it's up to the General Assembly to determine how to come up with money for this project.

When Indianapolis needed a new stadium, the General Assembly created a food and beverage tax in Marion and surrounding counties to pay for it. The Indianapolis area needs mass transit, and so does Northwest Indiana. Here is the General Assembly's moment to shine.

Create a funding source that will pay for improving and extending South Shore service and other transit projects in Northwest Indiana and beyond. Address the transit needs in the Hoosier Holy Land at the same time.

Indiana is sitting on a $2.6 billion surplus. Tap that for some of the start-up costs, perhaps, but provide another funding source to make this effort sustainable.

We have been waiting on this train long enough. It's time to make the commitment to improving and extending the South Shore's service so more Hoosiers can bring home those high Chicago salaries.

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