The expansion of the South Shore Line is a hot topic on the minds of many in Northwest Indiana, and we recently invited two of its biggest advocates to talk about its merits.
Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the Regional Development Authority, and Michael Noland, General Manager and CEO of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), sat down recently with Ideas in Motion Media CEO Chris Mahlmann to talk over the proposal of double tracking, how that will affect the economy in the region, and how it will change the future trajectory of Northwest Indiana.
The South Shore Line double tracking project has been brought forward as an essential project to help the region grow and flourish, a plan that Hanna explains is a result of what the plan to expand does at its best.
“The name of the game is the development opportunities and vibrancy and right now NICTD is the star project in terms of the strategic impact and how we’ll do that,” Hanna stated. “How do we change our position in the market so that it’s a miles-to-minute discussion? Mike has a project to get us there better, faster, and to make us a more viable option in the market.”
Double tracking is not just a need for people traveling to and from Chicago, but also a initiative to get NICTD’s performance perfected, for the South Shore to be more dependable, and most of all bring people (and their higher income) from Chicago to Northwest Indiana.
“We want to get our service down to the point where people are thinking in the terms of time and not miles,” Noland explained. “When we do that and we shave off the time in this region to downtown Chicago, and when we add the kind of service we need - we have gaps in our schedule right now where we can’t run a full service - we’re able to see a difference. If we can improve the infrastructure where we can run more express trains, we can increase our on time performance from 89% to 95%. We can have hourly service to Chicago where it’s dependable, reliable and quick. When that happens, now you’re looking at an option to live wherever you choose and that doesn’t exist today.”
Hanna also states that it’s not only the option for people to make Northwest Indiana an option for relocation from the suburbs, but it opens up the region for investors and huge strides towards more economic development.
“We’re not competing against [Chicago suburbs] anymore if you’re looking at it. You see our region and say we are part of that urban development - it’s exciting, it’s trendy, it’s new, there’s real money coming in here,” Hanna explained. “The investors are already responding. Then you look a place like Valparaiso that’s not an inferior product than what’s a peer community on the other side - you’re just early on the opportunity. That’s true with a lot of these communities, whether it’s in the urban or rural type settings. Where else can you get that?”
Noland continues, noting that in order to keep Northwest Indiana on the track toward future success Northwest Indiana citizens need to stay in their community and double tracking gives them the option to do so.
“We’re not an importer of talent, we’re an exporter of tremendous talent. Why aren’t they staying here? I think that part of the answer is that we’ve got to bring that Chicago economy and that opportunity that it brings with it closer to the region, so that people do have that choice. If they want to work here? Great. If they want the option to work in Chicago? Great. It makes us more competitive, it keeps people here and attracts more people here. That’s the whole purpose.”
For the full interview, check out this conversation as a podcast on Soundcloud, and check out the highlight video below.