Chesterton Tribune

NWI Forum did its homework before taking South Shore stand

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Guest Commentary

By VINCENT GALBIATI

President and CEO of the

Northwest Indiana Forum.

Before the Northwest Indiana Forum committed to working on the Chicago-South Shore Connections project it first had to get an understanding of the importance of mass transit to sustaining and growing employment in northwest Indiana. The Forum did its research balancing the benefits of an expanded rail system to the cost of building the service.

There is an abundance of information on the subject that is easily obtained both supporting rail transit and dismissing it. Two organizations that provide access to a wealth of data, studies, articles and research are the American Public Transportation Association www.apta.org

and the Center for Trans-portation Excellence www.cfte.org

 There are a vast number of nationally commissioned studies that are accessible through the US Department of Transportation www.dot.gov

 and related studies through the US Department of Labor www.dol.gov

 and the US Environmental Protection Agency www.epa.gov

 It takes some effort but reading the Safe Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) will provide a good foundation for understanding the importance of investing into transportation systems.

Some of the most reputable private firms such as Deloitte and Cambridge Systematics who advise private and public investors do their own research. Though not as direct as the not-for-profit associations or government studies their information can be obtained if you seek them, and the Forum did.

After getting an understanding of the issues and a national mass transit perspective, the Forum reviewed the strategic plans and commissioned studies of the Northwestern Indiana Planning Commission, (NIRPC), the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, (RDA) and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District, (NICTD).

NIRPC’s 2030 transportation plan includes mass transit www.nirpc.org

The RDA’s Comprehensive Economic Strategic Plan, based on its enabling statute, requires the development of commuter service (

www.in.gov/rda/

 NICTD’s commissioned studies show that it is at capacity with its present line and needs to expand to meet the demands of the growing and shifting populations of both Lake and Porter Counties www.nictd.com

 All of which are easily available to the public to read.

The Northwest Indiana Forum is a not-for-profit regional economic development organization representing the private sector and is dedicated to bringing jobs to northwest Indiana. Its constituency includes manufacturing, universities, healthcare, workforce development, mental health organizations, special needs organizations and municipalities through their respective economic development organizations, and it is the most logical entity in northwest Indiana to bring together business, political, civic, and grassroots organizations collectively under a truly regional project called, “Connections”.

So when columnists glibly imply the Northwest Indiana Forum has the reputation of a socialist regime or purveyors of propaganda, it clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding about the organization and irresponsibly spreads an unsubstantiated and inaccurate claim.

Since the South Shore is public transit, the RDA’s financial participation supporting public outreach is both warranted and completely appropriate. The Northwest Indiana Forum applied for the grant through a rigorous, established RDA process spanning two months, and the grant was awarded based on the merits of the initiative. The RDA acted with complete transparency and thoughtfulness.

With regards to taxpayers’ money being received by the Northwest Indiana Forum: (1) the Forum acts as the fiduciary to Connections, (2) the mailers are to educate and inform the public describing the scope of the project, its costs, and the expected benefits to the region by investing into the expansion, (3) the literature is consistent with responsibilities for public outreach and education by the RDA, (4) Connections has acted appropriately and responsibly with the monies received by the RDA.

Public outreach has included: speakers bureaus, websites, educational materials, newspaper articles, television talk shows, chamber of commerce meetings, Rotary meetings, Kiwanis meetings, union meetings, presentations to convention and visitors bureaus and city, town and county councils, train station handouts, and much more.

Communicating to ensure the region’s citizens understand the costs and the benefits of expanding the South Shore is especially needed when it involves the public’s investment. The grant by the RDA represents only 15% of the total budgeted public campaign costs.

The commitment of the Forum was to facilitate the initiative regionally involving a broad base of support, and it succeeded. Endorsements and financial support have come from a wide variety of sources including: civic organizations, businesses, personal contributions, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, municipalities, labor unions, and many, many more.

Finally, the Porter County Commissioners have approved a resolution submitted to the RDA requiring the Northwest Indiana Forum to submit a full disclosure of all funding and expenditures associated with the Connections project. The Northwest Indiana Forum is obligated to disclose the use of the RDA proceeds as a condition of the grant and will fully comply when requested.

For more information, contact Karen Lauerman, Director of Marketing & Communications 219/763-6303, ext. 181 or klauerman@nwiforum.org

 or visit www.nwiforum.org

 

Posted 1/30/2008