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Visclosky Testifies in Favor of Local Infrastructure Investment

Congressman Pete Visclosky testified yesterday before the Indiana General Assembly’s Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solution. In his remarks, Congressman Visclosky emphasized the need to establish a permanent non-federal source of matching revenue to expand the South Shore Line to Lowell and Valparaiso. He believes that this type of investment in opportunity will generate a new future and lure the next generation of Hoosiers to stay and move to Northwest Indiana.


Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you, Vice-Chairman Wyss, and all of the members of the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions for your initiative in holding this critical hearing. As you assess the transportation and infrastructure needs of Indiana, and in this instance Northwest Indiana, I appear before you to ask for your assistance. We are in the midst of a troubling trend in Northwest Indiana, a trend where our population is decreasing, our wealth is decreasing, and our age is increasing. Therefore, I ask for your assistance in fashioning a permanent non-federal source of matching revenue to expand the South Shore Line to Lowell and Valparaiso. I am certain that creating such an investment tool would inure to the benefit of not only the people in our region, but to the profit of the entire state.

A century ago, our ancestors transformed Northwest Indiana into one of the world’s premier industrial and manufacturing centers. My grandfather and grandmother came to this region to make a better life for themselves and their children. They worked hard to invest in opportunities that led to a dynamic regional economy. As I look at Northwest Indiana today, Lake County in particular, we are fewer, poorer, and older. Now, more than ever, we need to again invest in opportunity.

Between 1970 and 2010, the entire population of the United States of America saw a growth of 51.7 percent, from 203 million people to 308 million people. Over that same time period, the population of Lake County, Indiana, decreased by 9.2 percent, from 546,000 individuals to 496,000 individuals. Also between 1970 and 2010, Lake County saw a decrease of 12.9 percent of its median income per year, from $56,776 in 1970 to $49,443 in 2010. Lake County also saw a 42.3 percent increase in its median age, from 26 years old in 1970 to 37 years old in 2010. Porter County and LaPorte County have better stories, as their incomes and populations have increased, but their median ages are increasing as well.

Why is this so? Why is there waning growth and vibrancy from our predecessors’ investment in opportunities? Has it been because of a lack of resources? No. We are on the shore of the largest body of fresh water in the world. We are intersected by four interstate highways and two U.S. highways that travel across our country. Freight rail from the East Coast passes through Northwest Indiana on its way west, and we are in the environs of Chicago and its $500 billion economy and 4 million jobs.

We also have started to reinvest in our region. It is only though the diligent efforts of many public officials, labor, business leaders, and local government entities that we have made significant progress on the Grand Calumet River cleanup and the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal dredging. The Little Calumet River Flood Control Project is nearly complete. Today we can see portions of our lakeshore being transformed to encourage economic growth, and construction is taking place at the Gary Chicago Airport. Cutting-edge research and investments are also occurring at our institutions of higher learning, such as the Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation at Purdue University Calumet.

But today, Lake County is fewer, poorer, and older. What is lacking? I believe the answer is connection. We need to invest in the thread that will weave through Northwest Indiana and connect all our efforts and natural abilities. We need connection through a meaningful mass transportation system in Northwest Indiana. We need connection through the expansion of the South Shore Line.

It is clear that transit oriented development works and that it is a means to diversify our economy. For example, Washington, D.C., experienced a large amount of commercial development when Metrorail was constructed. In the years of its completion, 97 percent of the regional economic development took place in close proximity to a Metrorail station.

And consider Chicago’s economy, which is larger than the economy of Sweden. One reason for its economic dominance is because there are 410 miles of commuter rail lines in Illinois emanating from the Chicago Loop. Attached to this testimony is a Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District map that shows these Illinois rail lines. It also shows the one line to the Chicago Loop from Indiana, with its 35 miles of commuter rail from the Illinois border to Michigan City. Chicago knows the value of commuter rail, as its planning documents call for 75 percent of their resident homes to be within walking distance of public transit by 2040. Chicago’s average job pays 38 percent more than a job in Northwest Indiana, and we need to facilitate the movement of people to those jobs. We need to have expanded South Shore service so that young, talented people realize that Northwest Indiana, with our affordable housing and low tax rates, and with access to the economy, culture, sports, and entertainment of Chicago, is the place to live, raise a family, and yes – invest in new jobs.

But as I sit before you today, I am frustrated by our inability to secure the success of this expansion. Over the years, we’ve been able to provide $43.4 million to recapitalize and improve the existing South Shore Line. In 2004, twelve communities and two counties came together to pool their resources and study the expansion of the South Shore Line. In 2005, the Regional Development Authority was established with one of its explicit charges being the expansion of the South Shore Line. In 2006 and 2007, ultimately futile attempts were made to expand the South Shore Line, and in 2008 we experienced the greatest recession in nearly three-quarters of a century. As with many initiatives at that time, thoughts on the expansion of the South Shore Line slowly faded away. In the meantime, we are fewer, poorer, and older.

The cost of expanding the South Shore Line to Dyer, as a first leg, in 2011 was estimated to be $464.4 million, and 50 percent of which is to be provided through a return of your federal tax dollars. Since Fiscal Year 2010, the federal government has spent nearly $11 billion each year on transit oriented development projects across the country. That is your money, and it is currently going to Illinois Chicagoland stations, like the stations at Prairie Crossing and Arlington Heights, and commercial development and residential properties are following that money. We need to bring these federal dollars to our own transit system, and that starts with a permanent non-federal match.

I alluded earlier to the investment in opportunities that an earlier generation made. Their investments drew spirited, young people to this region, and we must do the same today. Young people today simply are not driving as much, and we must recognize that preference. According to a report released by U.S. PIRG this past May, young people today are more likely to want to live in urban areas and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than older Americans. Those between the age of 16 and 34 years of age drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001. Because of this trend demonstrated by our youth, while our total national population is expected to increase 29 percent by 2030, over that same time period the annual vehicle miles traveled is not expected to increase above 2004 levels.

Mr. Chairman, the youth of Northwest Indiana, in many instances, leave our region to receive training in a particular craft or skill. Some nobly choose to serve our nation in the military. Others leave for higher education. Then most never return.

We desperately need your assistance, and I respectfully request that you, Vice-Chairman Wyss, and all of the members of this panel, work with our political and community leaders, using your inimitable creativity, to finally fashion a solution for this expansion. We need to find a way to fund the creation of the thread – the South Shore Line – that will weave together and connect all of our efforts, generate a new future, and lure the next generation to stay and move to Northwest Indiana, so that someday people will remark on the Shining City on the Lake.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify, and I would be happy to take any questions that you may have at this time.


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