The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is on the right track in working with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District on a new rail study.
The joint study will develop a business plan for NICTD, showing how to get residents to and from jobs in Chicago via the South Shore Line commuter rail service.
"This will be a vision for what rail service should look like," RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna told the RDA on Tuesday."It will be done simultaneously with a partnership to develop strategic business plans. To date, we have not done this with NICTD."
The RDA helped the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority with its business plan, so now it's time to do the same for NICTD.
Hanna argues, convincingly, that one aspect of economic development is connecting people with existing high-paying jobs, not just helping businesses create new jobs.
The new study should be bold, indicating what the future of commuter rail service should look like in Northwest Indiana. That includes not just when and where additional rail service should take place, but also how commuters should get to the station.
If commuters get to the stations by driving their own vehicles, parking becomes an issue. If they take buses instead, or if transit-oriented development is to take place for commuters to live within walking distance of train stations, that should be accounted for as well.
We have been longtime advocates of expanding commuter rail service in Northwest Indiana. Increasing passenger rail capacity means getting more Hoosiers to high-paying jobs in Chicago. It also makes the region more attractive to developers. Just look at development along rail routes on the Illinois side of the Chicago area to see how homes and businesses will spring up near the train stations.
By determining how to get residents to and from jobs in Chicago using the South Shore Line rail system, this new study will move us closer to the adult conversation on how to fund the system. It's time.