Too often it seems those of us from Northwest Indiana take for granted the incredible assets our region offers.
From our Lake Michigan shoreline to the freight traffic that navigates our roads and rails each day, the natural and economic resources of Indiana's 1st Congressional District offer those of us who reside here a unique opportunity to achieve a regional American Dream.
We have all heard what it will take to harness these advantages and move Northwest Indiana ahead: regional vision, regional cooperation, and regional action. After decades of talking about it, thinking and acting regionally has finally taken hold. Today, Northwest Indiana is demonstrating for the rest of the nation what it means to have a grand vision of what we hope to achieve and the necessary commitment and hard work to carry it through.
I am pleased to highlight several of those initiatives:
• In 2004, five mayors came together with the common vision of recapturing, restoring and protecting our Lake Michigan shoreline for open, public use. Through the Marquette Plan, we have expanded public access to the lakefront to improve our lives and those of future generations. We have brought new economic development opportunities to the region.
• In 2005, our legislative delegation voted unanimously to create the Regional Development Authority. With its regional vision and collection of funds, the RDA has helped connect individual projects in Lake and Porter counties, including lakefront restoration, airport expansion, improved bus service and future rail expansion.
• After catastrophic floods hit Northwest Indiana in 2008, local leaders and the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission came together to better prepare Northwest Indiana should a similar disaster occur in the future. In December, the flood control portion of the project was finished.
• In 2009, Porter County completed the consolidation of its emergency 911 services. This move is expected to save Portage $500,000 per year alone.
• In September 2010, the 109th Avenue interchange opened in Crown Point, a project brought to fruition through the collaboration of local, state and federal leaders to ease traffic congestion and better connect Crown Point and neighboring communities.
• The following month, local officials in Whiting and Hammond completed the consolidation of the two cities' water systems. This interlocal cooperation saved millions of dollars, and Whiting and Hammond residents now have the lowest water rates in Lake County.
• Last but not least, The Times' One Region, One Vision initiatives have successfully brought community leaders together to discuss regional collaboration on issues such as governance, health care, religion and education.
Though these and other changes and consolidations have not always been easy, I believe the differences have been worked out in a regional context, and they will increase the quality and efficiency of Northwest Indiana's public services and resources. Each infrastructure project creates new economic development opportunities for the region and, particularly in today's difficult economic times, each taxpayer dollar saved through consolidation is a victory.
While we acknowledge and celebrate many efforts that have already been undertaken, it is vital that we not see this as an end but as the foundation for our next steps. Much work remains to be done. Never before has the need for transformation, unity or a grand vision of what we hope to achieve for Northwest Indiana been greater.
With continued collaboration, I truly believe Northwest Indiana's best days are ahead of us. The worst mistake we can make now is to stop.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., represents the 1st Congressional District. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.