EDITORIAL: Train plan raising eyebrows in D.C.

NWI Times

Northwest Indiana's efforts to expand and improve Region commuter rail service are on the best possible track to success.

Regardless of what happens as the project seeks millions in matching federal dollars, a bipartisan coalition of Region, state and federal officials are "raising eyebrows" in Washington with an impressive, multi-tiered strategy.

That's the assessment of Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority President and CEO Bill Hanna.

Hanna recently returned from our nation's capital, where he met with federal transit, congressional and Office of Management and Budget officials regarding the proposed $665 million West Lake Corridor rail expansion and $312 million double-tracking efforts.

Hanna said the bipartisan support of the expansion efforts and a newly minted state law that creates a mechanism for financing development along the rail line grabbed the attention of those who will hold sway over whether the projects obtain federal funding.

In that vein, February is a key month, which is fast approaching, when project planners expect to hear about funding recommendations for federal transportation grants.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and Hoosier senators Todd Young, R-Ind., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., remain all in on the project, as does Republican Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. Republican Vice President Mike Pence, our former governor, also appears to be on board.

But Hanna noted one of the biggest selling points during his recent trip to Washington was a successful Indiana House bill by state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville.

The bill created a financing mechanism, to be administered by Hanna's RDA, to spur development along the South Shore Line commuter rail system.

It's the kind of innovative skin in the game that Hanna and other train proponents hope will help propel the expansion efforts to success.

We all have reason for optimism.

The widespread support, planning and foundational work by so many Hoosier and Region entities is nearly unprecedented for Northwest Indiana interests.

We anxiously await the outcome.