MUNSTER — Major infrastructure projects, including the South Shore Rail expansion and Double Tracking, are the next great engine to drive Northwest Indiana’s economy, will stop the population exodus and provide employment and opportunities for generations to come, according to at least one Indiana representative.
Manufacturing, including the steel industry, also play an important role in the national economy because these jobs pay people living wages, he added.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, drove home those points during his keynote address Monday at the Northwest Indiana Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers luncheon meeting at Centennial Park Clubhouse. More than 50 civil engineers and students majoring in civil engineering at Purdue Northwest and Valparaiso University attended the meeting.
“Without steel and manufacturing, we will be a very stupid country,” he said.
Telling “the tale of two counties,” Visclosky outlined how mass transit has affected Lake County, Indiana, and Lake County, Illinois, since 1970. Both counties are “contiguous to the city of Chicago and both are along Lake Michigan’s shores,” he said.
Lake County, Indiana’s population “has declined 10 percent every year of this decade” while Lake County, Illinois’ population has risen 83.9 percent,” the congressman said. “The medium household income in Lake County, Indiana, has dropped 12.5 percent, even with two people in the family working three jobs. In Lake County, Illinois, the income has risen 17.7 percent.”
The difference, Visclosky said, is the presence of 480 miles of mass transit west of the Illinois/Indiana state line while there are just 38 miles east of that line.
“It’s like somebody built a wall,” Visclosky said. “We’ve been working on this issue (of mass transit) for 30 years.”
He said the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District plans to submit the federal funding application on Aug. 12 for the approximately $615 million West Lake expansion of the South Shore Line between Hammond and Dyer, and the $300 million project to double-track the existing commuter rail line between Gary and Michigan City.
This request for money to cover half the cost of each project is slated to be reviewed by federal officials next February.
However, while Visclosky congratulated state and national bipartisan efforts to keep infrastructure projects such as mass transit at the forefront, he expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s $3 trillion federal budget recently announced by Mick Mulvaney, current Office of Management and Budget director.
“Mulvaney called it a ‘skinny budget’ (and) sent out just 60 pages for a $3 trillion budget,” Visclosky said.
Even more disturbing, Visclosky said, is the message issued with the budget that said the administration doesn’t plan to fund any mass transit project in the U.S. and that a cut of $2.4 billion in Department of Transportation funding is proposed.
“I will not support a transportation bill that we don’t pay for,” Visclosky said.