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The Senate chamber in the Indiana Statehouse.

INDIANAPOLIS — A first-of-its-kind plan for coordinated transit-oriented development near stations along the current South Shore Rail Line and proposed West Lake Corridor extension won unanimous approval Thursday by the Indiana Senate.

House Bill 1144, co-sponsored by every senator in Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties whose districts include the commuter rail line, was praised as a "game-changer" that will abound with benefits for Northwest Indiana and the state as a whole.

"It's a very huge economic development project. It's certain to bring thousands of jobs to the Region," said state Sen. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend.

The legislation authorizes the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to use increment financing to develop areas near rail stations to maximize the economic benefits of double-tracking the existing line between Gary and Michigan City and extending service from Hammond to Dyer.

The House-approved plan was revised by the Senate to limit the maximum initial size of a transit development district to a half-mile, instead of one mile, and to permit LaPorte and St. Joseph counties to participate in TDD opportunities without joining Lake and Porter counties as full members of the RDA.

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, said the proposal also was adjusted to more fully account for local government interests, and to ensure local schools receive all the money they'd otherwise be entitled to.

"The districts will have local control, local planning will be involved and the locals will have a say in how these TDDs are put together," Niemeyer said.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said she is confident that improving the century-old South Shore Line, as well as the associated transit-oriented development, will "better the lives of the hardworking people of Northwest Indiana."

It also is an outstanding opportunity for greater regional cooperation in the four-county area, said state Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores.

The RDA's planning consultant, Indianapolis-based Policy Analytics Inc., estimates the local tax revenue growth available for development spending in just Lake and Porter counties will total $456.2 million over a 20-year period.

That's likely to unlock up to $3 billion in ancillary development throughout Northwest Indiana, according to the RDA.

State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, the House sponsor, said he now will take the legislation to a House-Senate conference committee to make a few finals tweaks to the proposal.

The compromise measure must then be re-approved by both chambers to go to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature or veto.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.