NORTHWEST INDIANA - "Time is of the essence" for federal action on the proposed $900 million South Shore rail expansion projects says the chief executive officer of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Bill Hanna says Fiscal 2019 budget talks are beginning now and it's important for the South Shore project to be in the mix. He points to recent, high-level attention for the work -- a visit to South Bend from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, discussion by Governor Eric Holcomb with Vice President Mike Pence and a short conversation between Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) and President Donald Trump during a Wednesday trip to Indianapolis -- as signs of "excellent progress."

Plans call for extending the existing corridor south to Dyer and double-tracking the line between Gary and Michigan City, while making improvements to stops along the way. An additional proposal in northern Indiana would include relocating part of the line in South Bend to improve access at the South Bend International Airport and shave time off the trip to and from Chicago.

Hanna likens the long process to get the proposal to the point it is now to a relay race. "These efforts started with the leasing of the toll road," he said, and has since received bi-partisan support at the local and state levels for the their portion of the funding. "The baton is being handed off at this point. You know, we're talking to the administration... whether it's Vice President Mike Pence or President Trump and we'll be working over the next several weeks with members of Congress, as well," Hanna added.

He says the core of the investment is economic development and tapping into the country's third-largest market, Chicago. "We've interviewed over a dozen national and international-scale developers interested in the project because of the construct," Hanna says. Development zones have already been set for all nine stations involved in the project "so the private sector comes into a development-ready situation." This public-private collaboration, Hanna believes, jibes with the infrastructure funding vision of the Trump Administration and could be adapted as a national model for other transportation-powered development elsewhere.