LAKE COUNTY, Ind. (STMW) — In March, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District board could review proposals for an environmental impact study of an eight-mile extension of the South Shore commuter rail line.

NICTD General Manager Gerald Hanas told the board Thursday the proposals for the study should be ready for the March 28 meeting. Hanas said about $1.9 million was on hand for the study, covering about two-thirds of its estimated cost.

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The long-debated extension to Dyer, estimated to cost $571 million, is picking up steam, although plans for action in the General Assembly still are murky.

Board members were treated to a viewing of a new promotional video featuring U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, championing the economic benefits of the rail line extension.

“He has a strong passion and advocacy for the extension of the South Shore as well as continued reinvestment,” Visclosky aide Celina Weatherwax said.

Visclosky envisions federal transit funds paying for construction, not new taxes.

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NICTD marketing director John Parsons said if federal approvals aren’t delayed, construction on the line could begin in 2019 and service could start in 2023.

Meanwhile, Hanas reviewed 2013’s operation and plans for this year. He said fare increases aren’t anticipated, but it depends on what the Chicago Metra commuter line does.

Parsons said the South Shore text alert system gained about 1,000 new subscribers during the Jan. 5-7 snowstorm and cold snap.

“The text alerts are valuable to riders,” said board member Mike Repay, a Lake County commissioner from Hammond. “No matter what, it beats getting on (Interstate) 80-94.”

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