INDIANAPOLIS — The financing plan for the South Shore Line's West Lake expansion on Thursday won the second of four key approvals necessary to seek federal funds for half the cost of the $764 million project.
The Indiana Finance Authority Board unanimously endorsed a shared governing agreement and consented to sell the bonds needed to finance the extension of commuter rail service to Chicago along a nine-mile spur running from Hammond to Dyer.
Officials at the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District also are expected to approve the plan Friday. NICTD owns and operates the existing South Shore Line that runs for 90 miles between Chicago and South Bend.
The governing and financing plan already was adopted last week by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which raised most of the state and local money for the rail expansion and will oversee transit-oriented development at the four new stations.
Finally, the State Budget Committee is required to sign off Aug. 15 before the federal funding request can be submitted.
Micah Vincent, the finance board chairman and director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, said he's optimistic the South Shore project will win federal support because all the required state and local funding and approvals will be in hand.
"We feel good about the application we will put forward," Vincent said. "We think we can make a good case for why this is a good project, not just because of its impact on Indiana but also its broader regional and national economic impact."
The South Shore Line expansion is expected to draw new residents and businesses to Northwest Indiana who are attracted by the state's comparatively low cost of living, business-friendly policies and easy access to Chicago — the third-largest economy in the country.
The state finance authority, NICTD and the RDA plan to ink a second financing plan in coming months for the $376 million project to double-track the South Shore between Gary and Michigan City to reduce travel times on the existing rail line.