Chesterton Tribune

Sierra Club leader speaks out against South Shore extension plans

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Guest Commentary

By SANDY O’BRIEN

Group Chair

Dunelands Sierra Club

Members of the Dunelands Sierra Club dispute the Northwest Indiana Forum’s claim that environmentalists support the commuter rail extensions. On the contrary, we are concerned that the South Shore commuter rail extensions will lead to more sprawl.

It makes no sense to continue auto-dependent sprawl development when oil supplies are diminishing, and climate change will soon force mandatory reductions in fossil fuel use.

Population, race, poverty, school, and job location trends indicate that the region is both dysfunctional and inefficient: anyone can view these data at www.nirpc.org

 and www.doe.in.gov/apr

Sprawl in the green fields has drained resources away from the older urban areas.

Decades of what has been termed “the twin engines of race and sprawl” by David Rusk, the respected urban policy specialist, must be reversed.

Good public policy and investments should aim to bring the region together for a sustainable future of less energy use, a greener footprint, better education and good quality of life for all citizens.

We see the Northwest Indiana Forum, a powerful green field development lobby, pushing this “green washed” publicly funded commuter rail extension for its members benefit.

The $30 million/year rail project funding plan includes enough money (page 25, RDA Plan II) for a south Lake County convention center, for the Olympics.

Though Forum support for the Compact to protect Lake Michigan water is good, its consistent opposition to stricter pollution limits for industry isn’t.

We challenge the Forum to move from “green wash” to really green.

The Forum could use its clout to lead Indiana up from 49th place on Forbes’ greenest state list.

The Forum could support a state Renewable Electricity Standard, mercury and other pollutant reductions, green development, and education excellence in inner cities, and end up with what it is supposedly looking for, a better economy.

Dunelands members very much prefer the Marquette Greenway Plan to revitalize Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago as the best plan for the environment, and the region’s economy.

It is a great alternative to sprawl in the green fields, which works for cars but not for convenient, energy efficient mass transit.

Return on public investment for the Marquette Plan is much greater than for commuter rail extension. Its job outlook is 39,000 versus only 26,000 for commuter rail by 2040.

And this is for a fraction of the local cost, $30.1 to 82.5 million versus $570.1 million, plus the rail project also requires a locally funded operating subsidy of $12.1 million/year. www.in.gov/rda/

Building only the Valparaiso leg might be justifiable because it supports south Hammond, Munster and other first ring suburbs on the way. Ending this leg in Merrillville would limit green field development and save about half the $1.05 billion cost of the rail project.

Equity truly requires equal funding for the Marquette Plan and the RBA (regional buses) and no disinvestment in the existing South Shore line.

In a similar way, common sense demands a tight, enforceable land use plan to prevent green field development, except transit oriented development around the stations, if the full rail extensions are built.

 

Posted 1/29/2008