Last September, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky gave an impassioned speech about how not investing in mass transit has fueled brain drain in Northwest Indiana. His call to action must not be forgotten.

Since the 1970s, Northwest Indiana has lost 9 percent of its population. Personal income has stalled as well.

Northwest Indiana could learn a lot from the Pied Piper tale Visclosky cited.

The Hamelin, Germany, city fathers hired the Pied Piper in 1284 to lure the mice away from town. When the city refused to pay the piper, he led the children away.

Visclosky has been urging Northwest Indiana for years to pay the piper, to work with the Indiana General Assembly to come up with the local match necessary to expand South Shore commuter rail service in the region.

In September, Visclosky set a deadline of the end of March to settle on that local match. The Indiana General Assembly session ends then.

It's up to the General Assembly to determine how this needed mass transit initiative will be funded. And it's up to the region's legislative delegation to show leadership on this issue.

The reason to build the South Shore extension is clear. There are more jobs within walking distance of the South Shore stations in Chicago than there are in Lake and Porter counties combined.

A study by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District a few years ago found that in every sector except manufacturing, jobs in Chicago paid better than comparable jobs in Northwest Indiana.

Those are paychecks worth pursuing.

Traditional economic development focuses on bringing jobs to the people. But bringing the people to the jobs is no less effective.

Building the rail line is costly, no doubt about it. But don't forget the federal government is expected to pay half the cost.

Visclosky's impatience stems from the possibility that federal money for transit projects like this could diminish. Inaction could end up costing Northwest Indiana more in the long run.

Building the rail extension means jobs. Not just the construction jobs, but the high-paying jobs Hoosiers could get in Chicago, bringing their earnings back to Northwest Indiana.

The stumbling block for this project has been the nonexistent local match. 

After years of delays, identifying a source for the local matching funds is urgent. Get it done during this legislative session.

It's time to pay the piper.

Politics/History Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.