When the Regional Development Authority (RDA) was created in 2006, it was a completely new idea. There were no guidelines, examples or templates. All of our accomplishments have been hard-earned. As a result, the RDA has gained a reputation for dealing openly and fairly, adjusting as needed and getting things done.
The expansion of the Gary/Chicago International Airport has gone from something no one ever believed would happen to the brink of completion. Nine years ago, the Marquette Plan to revitalize the Lake Michigan shoreline was just a plan; now it’s real in communities like Whiting, Hammond, Gary and Portage. Rail and bus connectivity to high-paying jobs in Chicago have been upgraded, and new companies lured to Northwest Indiana with the help of the RDA’s deal-closing fund.
The RDA did not accomplish this on our own. The RDA has partnered with local, state and federal governments, and with private businesses, in transforming Northwest Indiana. We appreciate all of our partners’ efforts. Without them, we would not have succeeded.
At the Gary/Chicago Airport we’ve worked with the city and the federal government to move utilities, reroute train tracks, build bridges, clean up environmental contamination at multiple sites and lay down most of a new runway extension. Progress was made recently on one of the final priorities, an agreement between the three Class 1 railroads involved to move their operations off the old tracks, after which the final phase of the extension can be finished.
The Lake Michigan shoreline has been transformed in Hammond, Whiting, Gary and Portage. To date, the RDA, these shoreline communities, federal agencies and private entities have invested more than $200 million along the lakefront since 2006. Further shoreline work continues in East Chicago and Porter. The RDA is particularly proud of the lakefront project in Whiting, which has had a tremendous impact on the city. They now have a lakefront venue for recreation and events, a new stadium, new housing and recently broke ground on a new, mixed-use development that will be the first new building of its kind in the city in 60 years.
The RDA has been part of eight economic development deals to date, six in Lake County and two in Porter. The RDA’s investment was relatively small, about $12 million, but has helped bring almost a thousand jobs and half a billion dollars in investment to the region.
When those economic development jobs are combined with the jobs that, according to our 2012 ROI analysis will be created by the shoreline and Gary Airport projects by 2025, as well as the construction jobs generated by those two areas, there more than 5,000 jobs that have been or will be created by the efforts of the last nine years.
Our plans for the next decade are equally ambitious. With one single project – the West Lake Corridor – the RDA can fuel the creation of thousands of commuter and Northwest Indiana jobs. By focusing on connectivity to Chicago and Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) here in Northwest Indiana, we can drive economic development and improve quality of life.
The Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is a tri-state economy – Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin – with a population of 9.5 million people living in 14 counties. It ranks as the eighth-largest economy by GDP in the world and the third-largest in the U.S., behind only New York City and Los Angeles. There are 4.5 million jobs in the Chicago MSA – more than in the entire state of Indiana.
A glance at U.S. Census data shows there is plenty of room for growth in Northwest Indiana commuting. Between 29 percent and 40 percent of residents of the counties surrounding Cook County in Illinois commute into Cook County to work. But only about 20 percent of Lake County residents, and just six percent of Porter County residents, do the same, despite similar travel distances.
Still, what the region does get from current riders of the South Shore line is significant. According to NICTD’s most recent ridership survey, the average household income of South Shore riders is $82,400.
If opened on schedule (by 2023) the West Lake Corridor project is forecast to increase total ridership on the South Shore system by approximately 5,600 riders by 2033. The commuter income returned to the region by these new riders is $147.3 million annually, a 62 percent increase over the $237.5 million that the South Shore line commuters now bring back to Northwest Indiana.
That money, when spent in Northwest Indiana, adds to the local economy in the form of increased employment, wages and regional production. The West Lake Corridor and related improvements are projected to add 1,984 jobs to the Northwest Indiana.
The RDA is proud to be a vital part of this sustainable growth that will continue to increase the quality of life in northwest Indiana.