Geoff Paddock urges Legacy committee to support rail development
NIPRA working on funding for job creation study and business case
Geoff Paddock, a founding board member of the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA), is today urging the Legacy Fort Wayne Committee to support funding for rail development in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana. The committee is currently reviewing proposals to invest some of the Indiana and Michigan Electric Company settlement dollars. This money, estimated to be nearly $80 million, accumulated through the utility company’s lease and eventual purchase of the old Fort Wayne City Utilities infrastructure. A decision on how to invest some of funds will be recommended by the committee in the near future.
“A proposal drafted by NIPRA was rated first among 20 infrastructure and transportation projects submitted to the Legacy Committee. I urge the committee to make a commitment to fund the proposal,” said Paddock. “The roughly $2 million requested by NIPRA could be used as leverage for state and federal funding to make the necessary upgrades to bring Amtrak service back to Fort Wayne,” he said.
Upgrading the Norfolk/Southern line to Chicago, which runs parallel to U.S. Highway 30, could add service to Fort Wayne and many areas along the route. Working with Ohio, tracks could be upgraded to provide service to Cleveland or Columbus and points east. NIPRA is working with Ohio and with Warsaw and other cities along the N/S rail route, to form a coalition of support for the return of passenger rail service to this area. It is not known what the total cost of upgrades would be, but the $2 million requested would be a portion of what local and state governments could provide to match federal money.
“A study supporting the return of Amtrak, released by Orthoworx in Warsaw, estimates the orthopedics industry and other business sectors could expand and add up to 750 jobs and over $160 million to the economy of Kosciusko County over the next 20 years. Property values would also increase between $35 and $53 million, according to the study. NIPRA is working to secure funding for an economic impact study of our own to showcase the benefit train service would have for Fort Wayne. We are close to putting funding together to conduct that study,” Paddock said. He is also a board member of the Indiana High Speed Rail Association. It has been estimated the addition of passenger train service to the city could produce between 350 and 500 permanent jobs.
“The Legacy Committee has rated the NIPRA proposal #1 (among 20 submitted) to improve infrastructure and transportation in Fort Wayne. I hope the committee will take the next step and recommend funding for our proposal,” Paddock said.
In addition to supporting funding to upgrade tracks and infrastructure to lure Amtrak passenger service back to Fort Wayne (after a 21 year absence), Paddock also reported on the following rail related issues:
NIPRA is working with the City of Fort Wayne, the private sector, and other interested parties in seeking funding to commission an economic impact study, or a business case, for the restoration of passenger rail service to Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana.
Construction on the Gateway Project, providing congestion mitigation in Lake County, is about to begin, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation. Once this work is completed in 2012, the viability of connecting Fort Wayne to Chicago will be enhanced.
It is believed the State Rail Plan will be released for public review in September. Paddock appeared at a public planning session regarding the plan in April. He submitted several hundred petitions, from area citizens, in support of the return of Amtrak service. The State Rail Plan should address the need to accommodate additional freight and passenger rail service in the state.
NIPRA and the Indiana High Speed Rail Association continue to urge state leaders to support rail development, and they are working to build coalitions of support across Indiana. Last year, NIPRA asked Governor Mitch Daniels and the State Legislature to set aside 2% of the roughly $3.5 billion state transportation budget, for rail funding.
“NIPRA will work over the next several months to make a business case to Governor Daniels and the State Legislature. Investing in passenger rail can create jobs, increase property values, advance tourism, and save energy. Gasoline prices continue to rise and fall between $3.50 and $4.00/gallon. We need to encourage more mass transportation in Indiana, and passenger rail service is lacking in our area,” Paddock said. “We know the people of Fort Wayne want train service back, and we are working to convince state leaders that it makes economic sense to invest in passenger rail,” he said.