July 20, 2017-With funding for the West Lake Extension of the South Shore railroad facing an uphill battle in congress, a group of area residents is calling on NICTD, operator of the line, to postpone purchases of land. Julie O’Connor of Munster addressed the Lake County Board of Commissioners yesterday to ask how she could get a resolution from the Board opposing any takings prior to a full funding grant agreement. “Today I am here to let you know that NICTD has recently confirmed that it will begin the property acquisition process as early as this fall, well before it receives confirmation of an award of federal funding” Julie explained to the Commissioners. “Approximately 140 homeowners in Hammond, Munster and Dyer could potentially lose their homes even if the project dies.” While not stated in the presentation, the move would obviously remove the property from the tax rolls further harming funding for schools at a time when Hammond is asking residents to approve a tax hike. Munster residents approved a pair of resolutions in May which will provide $50M to the schools.
Commissioner Mike Repay, who sits on the NICTD Board which purportedly oversees South Shore operations, appeared surprised by the statement. Despite that, there seemed to be little enthusiasm for assisting the group in their endeavor for a resolution opposing taking homes before full funding was received. While the NICTD Board is appointed, it consists of elected officials who have a fiduciary responsibility to protect our interests. In survey after survey 90% or more of region residents oppose the $900M West Lake Extention despite a decades long propaganda campaign by Congressman Visclosky and his partners at One Region, RDA and The Times. Lake County is represented on the NICTD Board by Mike Repay and Christine Cid.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee moved forward a budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 that would not provide funding for the West Lake Extension. According to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, “The administration does not support New Starts.” New Starts is the federal funding program under which Congressman Visclosky has promised $300M for the West Lake Extenstion of the South Shore Rail line. Proponents of the plan have remained silent on the action of the appropriations committee.