September 15, 2014 – Rob Earnshaw
From a rail crossing falling into disrepair to the proposed South Shore Line extension, trains were on the mind of recent Mayor’s Night Out participants.
The “horrible” condition of the railroad crossing on Indianapolis Boulevard next to Cargill Inc. was one of the issues concerning residents at the recent event at Wolf Lake Pavilion.
The tracks are just southeast of the entrance to Horseshoe Casino, and Milan Kruszynski, Port Authority director, said thousands of cars cross over them every day. Kruszynski said his office has contacted Cargill about the shoddy condition of the tracks.
“They don’t really want to take a lot of responsibility even though the tracks go into their facility,” he said at the event.
Kruszynski said his office has asked the Indiana Department of Transportation for help because a state road is involved. He said INDOT officials assured him they would be forceful, even threatening to pave over the tracks.
Hammond City Attorney Kris Kantar said the question initially was who owned the tracks, with Cargill previously denied it owned them.
“Then Cargill says, ‘Oh wait it’s ours,'” Kantar said. “They’re accepting the fact they have responsibility for those tracks. INDOT is threatening to pave over them if they don’t fix them properly.”
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the city has been working diligently on the issue, which he dubbed “frustrating.”
Cargill officials did not return calls to The Times seeking comment.
Another topic of discussion at the Mayor’s Night Out also involved rails — specifically the proposed South Shore Line commuter extension to Munster and Dyer.
Cities and towns are being asked to pitch in for the project. McDermott said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, wants $900,000 a year from Hammond for 30 years.
But McDermott continues to claim there are too many unanswered questions, such as whether freight trains would use the line.
“If there’s freight on this line, I think that makes a big difference,” McDermott said. “I’m not too excited about seeing another freight line go through our city.”
McDermott said a lot is being asked of Hammond, “so we should ask for a lot as well.”
“If you’re spending $27 million of your money, you want answers,” he said. “I think Hammond is being very responsible. There are some people who think we’re being very reckless and that we’re anti-regional and we don’t support the expansion. I don’t agree with that statement at all.”