Like the Gary Airport I’ve written about previously, an expansion of the South Shore commuter rail has been gestating for some time but has seen very little in the way of progress. The reason is the same one that causes so many public works projects to stall: money.

In order to get federal money for the project (which the plan’s proposal estimates would cost up to $1 billion), more than a third of the total funding must be raised by the local communities through direct taxes. However, of the 20 local legislatures asked to provide funds, only 11 have pledged to do so.

It’s not a huge surprise, as some of those communities wouldn’t even be directly served in the proposed new routes. Plus, the Region doesn’t really think much of public transit, so a new rail line is probably an afterthought in the minds of most residents.

Still, would this expansion be a benefit for them?

The proposal emphasizes the fact that expansion could make Northwest Indiana a destination and attract more businesses and people. A good intention, sure, but I’m not sure that will happen. It would seem smarter to focus on development of our communities first to give people a reason to come here before creating a new way to get here. Doing things the other way around would only provide more Indiana communities with easier access to Chicago. And with more people going in to Chicago to work and spend money, what would be the incentive for people in Illinois to come here?

For the individual commuter, however, I think it’s worth the building and upkeep costs. Let’s face it: the main reason people use the South Shore is to go to Chicago. Even when factoring in both a roundtrip on the South Shore and travelling around the city on the L, taking the train is much cheaper than the gas money and parking fees it takes to drive there. Less driving also means less pollution, which is good.

And people would certainly use the new lines. Even on just a regular workday, the parking lots of current South Shore stations are almost always saturated with the cars of commuters to city. More lines and stations would allow even more people to get to Chicago while reducing driving and saving them money.

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