The Illiana Expressway wasn't the only major issue on which the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission voiced its support Thursday. The commission also supported the push to expand South Shore service and to fully fund the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
That shows NIRPC is living up to the "regional" part of its name, because these are two regional priorities that merit regional, and downstate, support.
Expanding South Shore service would be a new twist on economic development. The traditional focus is to bring jobs to where people live. The rail initiative would bring people from their homes to where high-paying jobs already exist.
In every sector except manufacturing, Cook County jobs pay more, and often significantly more, than in Northwest Indiana. Taking Hoosiers to those jobs means bringing their paychecks home to boost the local economy.
This also should help Hoosiers see the wisdom of expanding South Shore service: There are more jobs within walking distance of the South Shore's stations in Chicago than in all of Northwest Indiana.
Making the South Shore expansion happen will require a strong local commitment. NIRPC's show of support Thursday will help.
Fully funding the RDA would help, too. That is also a smart investment Indiana should make.
Currently, the RDA receives $10 million annually from the state and $3.5 million annually from Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, Lake County and Porter County.
Under the RDA's enabling legislation, the state's final $10 million payment to the RDA is to occur in 2015. Adding the RDA to the biennial budget would help, but it wouldn't show the long-term commitment the RDA needs to continue its work of leveraging state, federal and private dollars for major projects, one of which could be the South Shore expansion.
RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said the RDA brings in about $2.60 in outside investment for every $1 the agency spends. That gives the state an impressive return on investment.
"Our argument for the state is that this is an investment that will benefit state coffers in the long term," Hanna said.
It's an investment the state should continue to make. The RDA deserves a long-term commitment from the state for continued funding.
NIRPC's support for both the South Shore expansion and continued RDA funding shows a regional focus. The state should support that effort.