MERRILLVILLE — Gov. Eric Holcomb remains committed to growing Northwest Indiana, and he believes the best way to do it is by double-tracking the existing South Shore commuter rail line between Gary and Michigan City and constructing the West Lake extension.
The Republican told some 200 business and community leaders at a One Region event Friday at NIPSCO headquarters in Merrillville that the rail projects are certain to bring new talent to the state and spur economic development in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
"It's the biggest, transformational statewide project in I'd say a century," Holcomb said. "This is a project that's been long in the thinking, and long in the making, and we're going to be able to see this through by 2024."
The state of Indiana, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and myriad local governments already have committed upwards of $500 million for the rail projects.
The Region now just is waiting on the federal government to deliver the matching money — and Holcomb is confident it's coming.
"What's different now is it's not if, it's when," he said. "We are in direct consultation with our federal partners, with the (congressional) delegation, to make sure that we've got every T crossed, every I dotted. We're in a very good position right now."
He said with double tracking bringing Michigan City within one hour of downtown Chicago by rail, and West Lake extending commuter rail service between Hammond and Dyer, Northwest Indiana is poised to experience the kind of explosive business and residential growth seen in suburban Illinois over the past few decades.
But improved transportation connections aren't the only reason Holcomb told One Region President Leah Konrady that he's optimistic about Northwest Indiana.
The governor said the Region has amenities that are second to none, including the state's only national park at Indiana Dunes, an extensive network of bike trails, growing companies doing business around the world and low unemployment.
He said Northwest Indiana also offers the opportunity to live in an urban, suburban or rural environment, and its comparatively uncongested roads mean Hoosiers "get time back," which he said is "true quality of life."
At the same time, Holcomb said many Hoosier students and workers still need to "skill up" to meet the workforce demands of the years ahead, and Indiana must find ways to link the rural areas in Northwest Indiana to the technology both of today and tomorrow.
"If you're not growing, you're dying," Holcomb said.
The governor's message was warmly received by the One Region audience and Konrady, who said Holcomb "really understands our Region in a unique way" and welcomed his challenge to dream even bigger.
"We have these assets of authentic downtowns, the South Shore train, the Marquette Greenway, the Indiana Dunes National Park," Konrady said. "How do we take all of those and really tie them together to make it into one greater asset that really drives people to live here?"