LAKE COUNTY - The president of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority says the South Shore Line West Lake Corridor project will create a crucial "Hoosier gateway in Chicago." The more than $700 million project has received a positive project rating from the Federal Transit Administration, putting it a step closer to up to $440 million in federal funding. Bill Hanna says the rail extension will help Hoosier workers connect to jobs in Chicago that often pay more, then "spend that money in Indiana."

Hanna says the eight-mile extension of the South Shore Line between Dyer and Hammond is a key connection for Hoosier workers.

"There's as many jobs in the Loop in Chicago as there are in the state of Indiana," Hanna tells Inside INdiana Business. "So in terms of this project, it constitutes widening the Hoosier gateway into the third-largest economy."

He says the project can also address population issues in Lake County, as it will make it easier for people who work in Chicago to live in Indiana, where the tax climate can be more favorable.

Hanna says the next step will be negotiating a full funding grant agreement with the FTA in hopes of securing a 50 percent federal match. He says he's confident the project will clear all the necessary steps and believes crews will begin "turning dirt" in the late summer or early fall of 2020.