If Indiana is the Crossroads of America, then Northwest Indiana is that in microcosm, with a hefty dose of train tracks thrown in.
That's why Indiana's new Local Trax Rail Overpass Program announced in Chesterton last week is such welcome news.
The program will provide at least $125 million for projects aimed at making railroad grade separations, closing crossings and providing other safety enhancements.
Communities can apply for the funding May 1 through Aug. 31. Each grant will require the recipient community to provide a 20 percent match.
"It is an all-aboard day because we are rolling out another all-aboard program," Gov. Eric Holcomb told the crowd near the railroad tracks last week.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said Indiana is among the top five in North America for the number of grade crossings, and some of the most dangerous are in Northwest Indiana.
The Local Trax program is a "big deal," he said. He's right.
Building overpasses will not only reduce congestion from waiting for trains at grade crossings, but improve air quality — fewer idling cars — and safety.
Griffith and other communities have gotten attention for making it more difficult to drive around the crossing gates. That improves safety, but it doesn't solve the congestion problem.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the program promises to improve safety and provide opportunities for development.
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said his city likely will apply for an overpass project.
Porter County Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, said the county also will weigh its options.
"We are really lucky in Northwest Indiana to have the state representatives we have to move transportation issues forward."
Darrell Wilson, assistant vice president of Norfolk Southern, said his company will work with communities as they fill out grant applications. The railroad is looking at how it can financially help communities.
Projects that consolidate or close crossings will have an edge because of the safety improvement.
We see too many vehicles get struck by a train each year at grade crossings, often with tragic consequences.
Local transportation leaders should be eager to compete for this funding to improve the safety Region rail crossings in advance of game-changing planned rail development.