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updated: 5/29/2014 8:04 AM

South Shore plan lists $1.16 billion in upgrades

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Associated Press

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. -- A blueprint for expanding and improving the South Shore commuter rail line released Wednesday calls for $1.16 billion in new investments for a southward spur and station and track upgrades.

The southward extension from Hammond to the town of Dyer, a community near the Indiana-Illinois border, would cost a projected $571 million and draw 5,600 riders per day, according to the plan.

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The plan for the line's next 20 years calls for about $591 million to be invested in station and track improvements on the existing line, which would significantly reduce travel times between South Bend and Chicago, The (Munster) Times reported.

The extension and improvements on the existing line connecting South Bend and Chicago were essential to the railroad's health and should be done in tandem, officials said.

"This is clearly a case where a rising tide lifts all boats," said Bill Hanna, CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which split the $550,000 cost of the strategic plan with the railroad's operator, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.

Benefits include the creation of nearly 2,000 new jobs and an increase of $2.5 billion in annual regional economic output by 2033, according to the plan.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky has promoted the South Shore extension to Dyer, and eventually to Lowell and Valparaiso, as the best chance for reviving the region's economy by connecting more people with high-paying jobs in Chicago.

The regional development authority has pledged $8 million per year for the life of the Dyer extension.

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