EDITORIAL: Train tracks are route to NWI's future

2014-06-05T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Train tracks are route to NWI's future nwitimes.com
June 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The plan to improve service on the South Shore's main line, as well as finally build the West Lake Corridor extension, is sound.

Improving service and building capacity means expanding the pipeline to high-paying jobs in downtown Chicago, where there are twice as many jobs as in Lake and Porter counties combined.

How high are those salaries? A prior survey for the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore, found them higher in Cook County — in many cases significantly higher — than in every sector except manufacturing.

More recent data on South Shore ridership puts that in perspective.

"We appreciate the salaries that come back to the region — over $80,000 per rider, on average," said Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority President and CEO Bill Hanna.

The costs of the South Shore's 20-year capital improvement plan add up fast. Speeding the existing route by adding an extra set of tracks between Gary and Michigan City would have a $98 million price tag, with half coming from the federal government. Improving capacity at Millennium Station, the end of the line in Chicago, where most riders disembark, would cost $30 million — again, with the federal government paying half.

Ordering new cars to replace the 41 bought in 1982 and 17 in 1992 would cost $250 million, but that's the cost of deferred investment in the rolling stock.

And if you don't like public transportation being subsidized, remember the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on any number of highway projects, not to mention the cost of maintaining local roads and streets.

And keep in mind the South Shore investments aren't coming all at once. This plan would take us decades into the future.

The expected return on investment is high, too. For too long, Northwest Indiana has been losing young people to other areas. This long-delayed investment should make it easier for Northwest Indiana to attract and keep young professionals.

Millennials are fond of using public transportation, and transit-oriented development, with convenient services and housing within walking distance of the train station, is popular with that generation.

That should encourage transit-oriented developments not just along the West Lake Corridor project but also near stations along the South Shore's existing east-west route.

It's time to push hard for these improvements to finally become a reality.

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