July 17, 2017-The US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee tonight advanced a FY2018 budget that included zero dollars for Congressman Visclosky’s $600M train to Munster. Congressman Visclosky is a member of the committee and he rose to speak in favor of the New Starts funding program. Congressman Visclosky acknowledged that states had spent “millions of dollars” in preparation for federal funding. He went on to make his best argument: “If this committee has bought paper, and this committee has bought ink, and this committee has prepared that report, the administration ought to follow the direction of that committee.” The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) has spent millions of local tax dollars on consultants and studies for the West Lake Extension. The RDA and the Norther Indiana Commuter Transportation District, operator of the South Shore Line, insist the project will cost $615M but have not revised that figure upward in years.
The West Lake Extension is a key component of the Slager/Visclosky Regional Transformation Plan. Under that plan, the RDA would take control of development around the existing South Shore Line as well as the West Lake Extension and would capture local tax revenue in order to create mixed use, multi-family development. RDA has stated they intend to create an “urban wall” of business along Ridge Road in Munster.
The full house and the Senate must still act on the budget. The Appropriations Committee vote is a major blow to the project. Critics of the New Starts program have suggested that the program ignores crucial infrastructure needs in urban areas where mass transit is utilized in favor of new mass transit in areas where it is underutilized.