October 26, 2014 – Rob Earnshaw
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. knows what U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, wants for the South Shore Rail Line commuter extension to Munster and Dyer — $900,000 a year the city’s share of the county economic development tax for the next 30 years.
What McDermott said he doesn’t know from the congressman is where the route and stations will be, and if freight will run on the line.
And if there is freight? That can be a deal breaker, the mayor said.
Speaking at his recent Mayor’s Night Out event at Kenwood Elementary School, McDermott recalled Visclosky speaking on behalf of the extension in front of the City Council and being asked if there would be freight on the line. He said his “head hit the table” when the congressman said he couldn’t answer.
“I was flabbergasted,” McDermott said. “This is controversial enough without a freight line. And I know what freight lines mean. Freight lines mean trains blocking streets and complaints coming into the Mayor’s Office because trains are going 2 mph and they’re stopped and kids are climbing over them.”
McDermott said residents of Dyer don’t have to worry about trains going through their community because they’re at the end of the line and trains will “pretty much be done” by the time they reach Munster. Freight in Hammond is a fact of life, he said.
That’s going to be a tough sell in our city,” he said.
About a month ago, McDermott called for a referendum on the extension, citing they have them for hospital and school expansions that cost nowhere near as much as the proposed $600 million for the South Shore. But he doesn’t believe it will come down to a referendum for one reason.
“The public doesn’t support this in my opinion,” he said. “And if that’s the case why are we spending their money?”
McDermott said he and the council got together and came up with a resolution to provide $250,000 for the $2 million toward the environmental impact study for the extension.
“We said we don’t want to spite the congressman,” he said. “There’s respect for the congressman. He’s done good things for the city over the years. And when the study comes back and we know the answers to our questions, then we can say yes or no. And it will be a debate. The council will have to make a tough decision when that day comes.”
McDermott said that day won’t even come until late 2015 when the study is complete.
“I don’t think in Hammond there’s a clear cut consensus in my opinion as to whether or not the residents actually want this — without even talking about money,” he said.
Visclosky was not available for comment.