EDITORIAL: Commuter rail builds firm foundation for growth

NWI Times

Northwest Indiana stands to benefit greatly from twin commuter rail projects planned for the Region.

The West Lake Corridor project will extend commuter rail service beyond the existing east-west route for the first time in more than a century.

The double-tracking project will speed and improve service along the existing route, making the commute by train quicker and more pleasant.

 

But that's not the only benefit of these projects. There's a redevelopment aspect that holds immense promise for communities along the rail lines.

State Rep. Hal Slager is pushing House Bill 1144, which allows the establishment of transit-oriented development districts at all station locations.

To those who complain about economic conditions along the 100-year-old rail line, here's your answer.

The plan is to encourage development surrounding the stations — homes, retail, offices and other improvements.

This is a new idea, and change can be scary for some people.

But learning more about how these transit development districts would work can dispel myths.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority would work with local communities to set up these districts, with plenty of opportunity for public comment along the way.

The districts would capture only any increase in property taxes within the district, not the full amount that already exists. The district would have to earn that additional amount.

It's a recognition that transit-oriented development boosts property values. People want to live and shop there.

These districts would be new to Northwest Indiana, but they have a proven track record elsewhere.

Bringing additional residents to these new homes near train stations would boost total incomes in the Region, which means income tax revenue would increase as a result.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., is fond of telling constituents that Northwest Indiana has lost its young people. They're leaving the Region in droves.

These rail projects, including the transit development districts, are a good way to make the Region more attractive to young people.

We need to shape the Region not just for the people who live here now, but also for those who will live here in the future.

This is the biggest economic development project of our generation. It's important to make sure we do it right.

Tonight, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission will seek comments on these projects at a public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m. at Michigan City's City Hall, 100 E Michigan Blvd.*

Technically, the hearing is for the 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program, Amendment No. 4 to NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan Update Companion, and its updated Air Quality Conformity Analysis.

Attend and show your support for commuter rail and community redevelopment.

We need these projects to lay a firm foundation for economic growth, and an improved quality of life, in the Region.

*This has been changed from the original.