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GUEST COMMENTARY: Promote the general welfare — not individual advantage
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GUEST COMMENTARY: Promote the general welfare — not individual advantage

Our region must speak with one voice to promote the general welfare and effectively advocate for the continued growth and development of Northwest Indiana in the coming decades.

Examples of entities that have allowed us to develop a shared vision and pool our resources include the Regional Development Authority and river commissions, notably the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission and the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission. Their establishment allows the federal government to partner with our state, political subdivisions and local stakeholders to meet the challenges of our region and improve the quality of place for all.

No longer can we afford to have the mindset that the number one priority must be to help one town, or one city, or one neighborhood. By helping a neighbor, we help ourselves. Good neighbors do not hurt others to help themselves.

As a resident of Gary, I recognize that not everyone who lives in Gary works in Gary, and not everyone who works in Gary lives in Gary. I travel to Merrillville to get to the District Congressional office, and a similar type of commute is true for many residents throughout our region. What helps one town, whether it is a public works project to improve sewers or the location of a new business, is a positive development for our entire region.

The question should never be, how can we use the resources available to just help ourselves? The question should be, how can we use our assets to help improve the general welfare? We must use all of our strengths, our talents and our environmental and financial resources to help everyone throughout Northwest Indiana.

The RDA is emblematic of what we can achieve when we join together. This entity exists in order to promote transformational projects that are regional in nature and beyond the scope and financial ability of any single jurisdiction. Specifically, it is mandated to support projects that include investments in the Gary/Chicago International Airport, a regional bus system, the opening of our Lake Michigan shoreline for public use and the South Shore Rail Line.

It is my belief that there would be no improvements to the South Shore Rail Line absent the RDA. It has been fundamental to the success of the West Lake expansion and Double Track projects. It is estimated that these two projects alone will attract approximately $2.3 billion in private investments, which will result in over 6,000 new jobs and $3 billion in economic impact.

Out of the 20 municipalities in Lake County, it is regrettable that four municipalities — Cedar Lake, the East Chicago City Council, Griffith and St. John — deferred or outright rejected providing funding for the West Lake expansion. While there is no doubt that the final financing and applications are in place to successfully complete this project, we could have made progress more readily if all our neighbors had agreed to help each other.

However, it is not too late. Additional funding would assist in retiring the costs of the current improvements so that the next round of new investments can begin sooner. Helping others is what good neighbors do.

Another proven model of collaboration and the utilization of our region’s talents and resources for a collective good are the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission and the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission. These entities aim to promote Northwest Indiana’s economic prosperity and quality of life. The Little Calumet River Commission has protected over 8,700 residences from flood waters, improved property values, allowed for new investment opportunities, and created a 2,000-acre river and recreation corridor system.

We need these types of entities in place as we move forward in the decades ahead to address the challenges that continue to face our region. They are necessary to ensure a common vision and disciplined approach to meet our objectives. They must also remain flexible and adaptable. The RDA and commissions have been modified and enhanced to meet evolving circumstances and new challenges. Ultimately, these organizations represent neighbors joining together to help each other.

The founders of our country wrote that the Constitution of the United States of America was created to “promote the general welfare,” not individual advantage.

I believe the RDA and the river commissions are the models for how we — as good neighbors — can join together to build our regional economy and promote the general welfare of the next generation of Northwest Indiana residents.

Pete Visclosky is U.S. Representative for Indiana's first district. The opinions are the writer's.

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