In response to a misleading Times editorial on Sunday July 2nd, Mayor McDermott felt the need to clarify Hammond’s position on this proposal by answering the following seven questions:
Can Hammond Afford to Lose It’s Place in the Biggest Economic Development Project in the State?
This was the question posed in The Times Editorial on Sunday July 2nd. This veiled threat of a headline came along with a supposed deadline by which Hammond officials must decide on whether or not to commit $27 million over the next 30 years towards this project, a deadline the Times quotes as “… the final days of August.” By that deadline, The Times editors expect Hammond leaders to commit $900,000 of Hammond’s portion of the County Economic Development Income Tax (CEDIT) towards this expansion for the next 30 years.
Without Hammond’s commitment of $27 million dollars, The Times editors warn that “… Hammond would lose out on construction of a new Gateway Station, a maintenance facility and a South Hammond station… Does Hammond really want to see a South Shore Line that essentially passes the city by? Would Hammond leaders prefer a gateway station be built on the Illinois side in Hegewisch, rather than [Hammond]?”
The Times wrote this editorial without the facts, and without comment on any other community’s financial commitment, or lack thereof. I am writing this column in response to The Times editorial. The Times editors continue to ignore Hammond’s longstanding position despite being informed of it repeatedly.
Does Hammond Support the West Lake Expansion Project?
Yes it does. In fact, in 2016, the Hammond City Council passed a Conditional Resolution by a 7-1 vote authorizing Hammond’s involvement with the planning and engineering details that a project of this magnitude would entail. Since that time, Hammond’s City Engineer as well as Hammond’s City Planner have attended, and have been major participants and contributors in, numerous meetings with NICTD (South Shore Line Operators), NIRPC (Regional Planners), the RDA (Regional Development) as well as officials from Congressman Visclosky’s office helping facilitate the details of the South Shore expansion as it winds it’s way through Hammond. These meetings have committed hundreds of man hours towards this project. As mayor I have publicly supported the project and continue to do so. My consistent objection has been to the funding mechanism. So yes, Hammond has supported, and is currently supporting, the planning and engineering towards the Westlake Expansion.
Does Hammond support the Concept of “The Gateway Station”?
Of course we do. In fact, the concept of this station, as well as it’s very name, was my idea in the first place. I thought of this idea in 2008, when originally approached by Congressman Pete Visclosky for my support of this expansion (which ultimately failed in the Indiana General Assembly). At that time, I broached the subject of a “Gateway Station” to a reluctant Congressman as well as NICTD administration, both of whom didn’t originally support the idea for cost concerns. Even though the expansion project in 2008 was not successful, this idea of the “Gateway Station” never went away. So when Hammond was again approached, in 2014, for its support of the Westlake Expansion, we made it clear we would not support the project without the Gateway Station included in the plans. NICTD, the RDA and the Congressman have been very positive about this concept during this debate, and we appreciate their cooperation on this matter.
Does Hammond want to Risk “losing” the Maintenance Facility?
The maintenance facility is not something that figures into Hammond’s South Shore expansion plans. Hammond officials helped NICTD by offering up a vacant piece of property , in North Hammond, where we could locate this facility along the expansion route without adversely affecting neighbors living in close proximity. Dyer and Munster officials expressed reservations about this facility being in their towns. Hammond officials knew that the old “OK Champion” facility (off Hoffman and Sheffield) would work perfectly as a location for the facility, and we approached NICTD with the proposal. NICTD Officials, at the time, were pleasantly surprised that we offered to help them with this issue and, since that time, have made plans for this facility to be located at this location.
Does Hammond Support the Concept of the “South Hammond Station” along with the Transit Oriented District (TOD) Development that would come along with it?
No we do not. After speaking with dozens of residents from this neighborhood as well as most Hammond elected officials, I am confident in saying that this station should not be included as a stop on the Westlake Expansion. This small, quiet neighborhood is strong and thriving. As opposed to the neighborhood surrounding the “Gateway Station”, this one has an extremely high percentage of owned single family homes. This neighborhood is fairly unified against the station, the 1,000 car parking lot (the same size as the East Chicago lot in it’s current form), and the traffic issues that come along with such a large lot. This area, as well as my administration, is totally against TOD development in this neighborhood at this moment in time as well. NICTD and the Congressman should save some of the high cost of this project by eliminating this station from the Westlake Expansion as far as this Hammond officials are concerned. In addition, the proposed Munster Station, located on Manor Dr. and Ridge Rd., is less than a mile away from the proposed South Hammond station. We feel that the Munster Station will serve both south Hammond and north Munster appropriately.
Does Hammond Support NICTD’s “Double Tracking” between Gary and Michigan City?
Hammond absolutely supports the concept of “double tracking” between Gary and Michigan City. In fact, it is shocking and disturbing that we have been operating this commuter railroad for so long with only a single track along such an important route. However, we do look at “double tracking” and the “Westlake Expansion” as two different projects, and it is possible to support one without supporting the other.
Is Hammond Getting a “Free Ride” if they Choose not to Donate Their CEDIT Money?
No, not at all. In fact, over the past 12 years, Hammond has handed over $40 million of their casino revenue towards the RDA, who committed a bulk of this money towards this project. Over the next 30 years, Hammond is forced, under the Indiana Code, to provide another $105 million towards the RDA who, in turn, will spend this money with little or no local control or input. Only 2 of the 15 communities who committed their CEDIT money towards this project provide a single dollar to the RDA (Gary and Lake County). So why should Hammond be forced to pay $105 million towards the RDA + the $27 million demanded by Congressman Visclosky? Even if Hammond doesn’t provide a penny of their CEDIT money, there will be tens of millions of Hammond casino tax dollars funding this project. Why are some communities pledging zero, others pledging a flat rate and others pledging various percentages ranging from 1 to 34%. There is no rhyme or reason in funding mechanism, and yet The Times criticizes Hammond’s reluctance to hop on board financially?
By answering these seven questions, I hope it helps to clear up Hammond’s position on this very important topic.
Mayor Thomas M. McDermott, Jr.