State funds sought for passenger rail

September 10th, 2018

By Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne city councilman is requesting $20 million of Gov. Eric Holcomb's Next Level Connections Program be earmarked for passenger rail in northeast Indiana.

Holcomb announced Tuesday $1 billion in funding for infrastructure projects over three years, funded through a one-time Toll Road increase on heavy vehicles.

About $600 million of that money will go to finish the Interstate 69 extension project three years earlier than expected and will put $200 million toward improvements on U.S. 20, U.S. 30 and U.S. 31. The plan also involves the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and the Indiana Finance Authority for West Lake rail service and a South Shore double-tracking project. 

But Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, said Wednesday he thinks some of that money should go to bringing commuter rail service back to Fort Wayne. The line would run from Fort Wayne to Chicago and east to Columbus, Ohio. 

“We want to push a little as quickly as we can. This is the perfect opportunity to ask the state to look into the possibility of this funding because we've worked so hard over so many years to come forward,” said Paddock, who has been a proponent of a passenger rail for many years. 

Paddock helped secure $200,000 from City Council in 2014 for an environmental impact study for the route. Allen County, cities and towns that lie in the path of the proposed line and private organizations also contributed funds to the study.

Building a new commuter rail line to Fort Wayne would be a valuable economic development asset, adding jobs and bringing visitors to the area, Paddock added.

“There is strong potential, a strong market for train travel and the seats can be filled on trains to Chicago and Columbus,” he said. “There is an untapped market and with stops along the way in Warsaw, Plymouth and Gary, you can justify the number of passengers that would accumulate along those stops to fill those trains up.” 

Paddock said he and the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association are exploring how to formally request the funds. That could happen several different ways, Paddock said, but will likely at least involve a formal request letter sent to the governor.