INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb is pressing the Trump administration to include full federal funding for double-tracking of the existing South Shore Line and construction of the proposed West Lake extension in the president's 2019 budget proposal.
On Friday, Holcomb discussed the South Shore projects during a private meeting with Vice President Mike Pence prior to the former Hoosier governor's speech in Anderson, Indiana, on tax reform.
He also asked Pence to deliver a letter addressed to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao detailing the state's funding request and thanking Chao for attending a South Shore Line briefing Aug. 29 in South Bend.
In his letter, provided to The Times by the governor's office, Holcomb said modernizing the South Shore Line will greatly reduce commute times to Chicago and help attract more residents and businesses to the Region.
"These projects have the capacity to truly transform Northwest Indiana by creating a catalyst for billions of dollars in private investment and thousands of high-paying, permanent jobs for Hoosiers," Holcomb said.
"The accompanying economic development activity, coupled with ongoing strategic investments in local schools, workforce development programs and housing options made throughout Northwest Indiana, collectively have the power to strengthen the proud, historically vibrant communities in the area."
He requested Chao list both double-tracking and West Lake — "together as part of one system" — on the Federal Transit Administration's funding report that will be submitted next year to the Republican-controlled Congress alongside Republican President Donald Trump's proposed 2019 federal budget.
Holcomb additionally asked that Trump maintain the $2.3 billion currently appropriated for the Capital Investment Grant, from which an estimated $333 million in federal funds is needed to extend the South Shore between Hammond and Dyer through the West Lake corridor, and another $156 million would go to double-tracking between Gary and Michigan City.
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The Republican governor acknowledged that Chao no doubt is receiving numerous requests for the limited transit funds from localities and states throughout the country.
But, he pointed out, the South Shore should be at the top of her list because it uniquely is positioned to be "the national model for successful, forward-thinking infrastructure investments."
Holcomb said one reason why is the significant bipartisan collaboration among 16 municipal governments, four counties and the state to raise the matching funds necessary to take the Region "to the next level" well in advance of seeking federal assistance.
"Local leaders and members of Indiana's congressional delegation from both parties have voiced enthusiastic support for South Shore Line projects because they understand (their) potential for our state," he said.
Earlier this month, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, operator of the South Shore Line, filed the applications required to obtain federal project ratings for both double-tracking and West Lake.
The projects need at least a medium rating on a five-level scale to qualify for Federal Transit Administration support.
South Shore Line President Michael Noland anticipates West Lake will earn a medium high rating, and double-tracking a high rating, putting both in an excellent position to receive federal aid.
The official ratings are expected to be revealed in February.