Over 300 people gathered at Avalon Manor on Monday night for “Laying Tracks for the Future”, an event presented by the Emerging Leaders Network. Organizers used the event to call for action on the proposed expansion of a rail line from Hammond to Dyer also known as the South Shore Line’s West Lake Corridor.
Congressman Pete Visclosky, the event’s keynote speaker, urged those in attendance to lead the charge in advocating for an expanded South Shore rail line in the coming days and weeks. The argument for expanding the rail line is to increase access to the Chicago economy from Northwest Indiana, which has plenty of resources like interstate, rail, and access to the lakefront make the area unique for business and for living.
“What we need to do is to recapitalize by bringing those resources together, recapturing the lakefront and expanding the South Shore,” said Visclosky. “What the people in this room do in the next 21 days will change how three-quarters of a million people live their lives. That is an incredible gift and opportunity for each of us in this room to change the future.”
In order to fulfill that opportunity, an $8 million commitment from local governments is required before the end of the month. “We need $8 million dollars. We don’t need $6.9 million, we don’t need $4 million, we don’t need $3.965 million. We need that financial support in Lake County,” he continued.
“In a positive fashion, suggest to your local leaders that you support their decision and you want to grow Northwest Indiana,” Visclosky said. “For this type of financing there are two types of approach: ‘We can’t,’ or ‘How are we going to make this happen?’. That is the approach we have to take and we have to be very positive about it.”
Visclosky also took a moment to recognize Janet Moran, a former member of the Hammond City Council who brought this idea to his table in 1987. “A generation has passed since Janet Moran had that first conversation with me about extending the South Shore,” he said while indicating that if all the milestones are hit, the expanded rail could be running in nine years.
Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, spoke about the success of recent RDA projects like the Portage Lakefront Park, Whiting’s downtown, and Hammond’s Wolf Lake Park, among others.
“We’ve done a lot of things to improve the area in redevelopment, but we need that final piece to be able to really tap in and make it happen. That’s what the extension of the South Shore is really all about,” he said.
“One thing I am particularly excited about is leading the state of Indiana in permanent economic development. [We will] no longer be the second chair to Indianapolis, we will be the leaders we were destined to be, located next to one of the most powerful cities on Earth,” Hanna continued.
Benjamin Bochnowski, Emerging Leaders Network member and Executive Vice President of Peoples Bank, spoke about the opportunity the rail expansion brings to building up Northwest Indiana.
"The way forward is connecting to the global powerhouse that is the Chicago economy, just 20 or 30 miles up the road,” he explained. “Rails make that connection. That’s how we will stake our claim to our future.”
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority has already pledged $8 million in RDA funds to match local funds generated for construction of the line. The RDA also estimates that the project will add over 1,900 jobs to the Northwest Indiana economy.
The RDA touted a study from Policy Analytics out of Indianapolis that showed an expansion to Dyer would result in 5,600 new daily riders and an estimated $147 million per year in paychecks coming in to the region from Chicago.
Several organizations, businesses, and universities in Northwest Indiana have publicly stated their support for the project, including the Crossroads Chamber of Commerce, Duneland Chamber of Commerce, Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors, Purdue University North Central and Valparaiso University, among others.
The theme for the evening was to encourage Northwest Indiana’s emerging leaders to lead in getting out the word about the expansion efforts and to encourage others to contact their representatives at the local and state levels.
At each of the tables, organizers provided attendees with pens and paper to write why they support the cause, along with contact sheets for Northwest Indiana legislators. There was also a bed of laptops that served as portals for online petitions to allow attendees to state their support on the web.
ELN’s Matt Glaros and Eddie Melton served as the emcees for the event, setting the tone for the evening by talking about teamwork and support and about the economic opportunity that presents itself with the proposed expansion.
“Tonight is a perfect demonstration of what happens when we work together,” said Glaros. “We’d like to show support for the rail, and support for what we believe will help really change and push forward Northwest Indiana."
For more information on the expansion, visit the NWI RDA website.