GUEST COMMENTARY: Honor rail commitments

NWI Times

We all can agree Northwest Indiana needs an economic jump-start. How we accomplish that universal goal is something on which reasonable minds might disagree, but I think it is safe to say by a wide margin, people agree the best available option is double-tracking the South Shore and extending the line to the Munster-Dyer border.

Even when we agree on something, however, there remains a question of finding the funding. Working to facilitate $300 million in federal funding, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky also has done yeoman’s work in seeking the required local and state matching commitments.

To build the necessary railroad infrastructure, the project requires the non-federal money to be available up front. Projects of this nature use long-term bonds that have to be issued to provide that immediate cash. If any leg of this federal, state, local triad is missing, the project will not be able to proceed.

 

The one danger area is local funding. While not every community has committed, most have. But some who have signed up are now having second thoughts, announcing their desire to reduce or eliminate their previous commitment. In one sense, this urge is understandable. After all, local roads need repair, winter snow needs to be removed, sewer and water infrastructure may need upgrading, garbage needs to be collected promptly, etc.

All these expenditures are important for us to hold our own, but they will not be the engine to drive increased opportunity and prosperity that expanded South Shore service promises. Painful in the short run though it may be, our communities should stand by their South Shore commitments. The future will be brighter if they do, and somehow all the vital local services will still get done.

Actually, after reading the interlocal agreement, I think the signatories don’t really have the option to withdraw. The agreement appears to give signatories only one option to modify their support. Section 9(B) authorizes participating entities to “increase their pledges.” There is no option to reduce or eliminate funding unless so much has been raised that more money is not needed. This is not a very likely prospect.

 

It always is sad to behold a reluctant giver. It's much better to be a joyous giver, who realizes even a painful sacrifice will produce a much greater long-term benefit. This is especially true with the South Shore expansion, which has been so widely discussed for so long a time.

Keep in mind the local match was not conjured up at midnight in a backroom deal. The interlocal agreement that requires the local match was discussed and approved in a very open, public way in each community, and this is exactly how the people’s business should be conducted.

So now it is a done deal for the communities that signed on. In fairness, it is time for them to be accountable for their actions and happily pay what they promised.