EDITORIAL: Momentum continues for Region rail expansion

NWI Times

It's always encouraging to see the stock rising for plans putting our Region on course to economic transformation and growth.

And the recent Indiana visit of U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao presented a green arrow pointed firmly upward for the future of Northwest Indiana commuter rail expansion and improvement.

Last week, Chao attended a two-hour briefing in South Bend, hearing the merits of the proposed South Shore Line expansion from Hammond to Dyer, double tracking from Gary to Michigan City and realignment of tracks in South Bend.

"Suffice it to say that the bipartisan nature and the public-private partnership aspects of any project would be ones that are important to us," Chao said after the briefing.

Chao called the project "a wonderful example" of a plan with public-private funding potential.

It's true Trump has recommended phasing out government Capital Improvement Grants, which would provide the federal financing for the South Shore projects.

However, Hoosier congressional delegates — namely Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind. — have been steadfast voices in a bipartisan movement for sparing the federal grant program.

"I support robust funding of the Capital Improvement Grant Program," Young said. "One would think this (South Shore expansion) would be a natural fit for receiving funding."

So the bipartisan push for a project that could create a whole new Region economy continues.

A new state law opening the development doors for building businesses and other amenities along the rail route is in play.

And the project appears to have the serious attention of the highest offices of federal transportation planners.

Our Region has every reason to remain optimistic that South Shore Line commuter rail expansion is on course to transform our economy and quality of life.