South Shore funding find off to a shaky start in Statehouse South Shore funding find off to a shaky start in Statehouse

Back in 2009, a referendum asked St. Joseph County voters if they wanted to join the Northwest Indiana Regional Transportation (now Development) Authority.

Ninety-four percent said ‘no.’

Suddenly, that was a cause for concern today on the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives. “My worry is that we’re going to start to work on a bill, we’re going to have general buy in, and then it’s just going to get bogged down in sort of an RDA distraction,” said Ind. Rep. Scott Pelath, (D) Michigan City. “And I don’t want to revisit those debates.”

House Bill 1144 came up for possible amendments today. The bill would put the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority in charge of a $290 million South Shore Railroad improvement project

“We do not want to see the double track project die,” said Ind. Rep. Ryan Dvorak, (D) South Bend. “If LaPorte and St. Joseph Counties are forced to make a choice, to either join the RDA or participate in double track, it can kill a whole project that everybody already agrees on.”

The double tracking project would cut an hour off the train trip between South Bend and Chicago. It appears to have strong support in all four South Shore counties. Problem is, only two of the four counties belong to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority: LaPorte and St. Joseph do not.

“The problem is, in the bill as it stands there is no ability even for St. Joseph County to participate. That, to me is an obvious oversight and a fundamental fatal flaw with the bill,” said Rep. Dvorak.

Rep. Hal Slager from Schereville is the author of HB 1144. “What’s complicated about this project is that it goes across so many jurisdictions and there are so many entities that are involved,” Rep. Slager said during today’s floor debate. “Make no mistake we absolutely want LaPorte and St. Joseph Counties to be participating in this and receiving all the benefits.”

While some were surprised to see the lead role the RDA would play under the bill, South Shore General Manager Michael Nolan was not.

Nolan said that some believe RDA involvement could result in a lower interest rate on project bonds, and that the authority would work simultaneously to bring private development projects related to the track improvements.

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