MERRILLVILLE -- The Regional Bus Authority took a tentative step toward greater regional cooperation Wednesday, setting a goal to better synchronize bus service with the South Shore Railroad.

The approved "statement of shared goals" is not a binding resolution. Board attorney David Hollenbeck told members, "It would be hard to state the lack of legal concern I have for this," when members asked if the RBA might be overcommitting itself.

The goals also include a mutual agreement to pursue an extension of the South Shore Railroad and to get Hammond, East Chicago and the Gary Public Transportation Corp. to agree to dissolve into one universal service run by the RBA.

The document is the result of months of talks among the RBA, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the South Shore, and other agencies to pass a statewide solution to regional transportation funding in the General Assembly this year.

The group is looking for a funding approach that other transit providers can support, specifically the Central Indiana Regional Transit Authority, which is looking to build a rail network connecting downtown Indianapolis to the suburbs.

One of the bills introduced downstate calls for the creation of Regional Transportation Districts, which would be given taxing authority to fund public transportation. The bill, HB1660, could help pay for a universal bus service, said RBA director Tim Brown.

The RBA also saw the results of an audit, called for by Rep. Chet Dobis, which criticized the group for: Having more than the federally-insured limit of $250,000 in one of its bank accounts, for not having a long-term funding source identified and for not conducting sufficient monitoring over its contracts, such as with Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp. to operate a regional call center for bus scheduling and with GPTC to operate regional bus routes.

To remedy those, the board plans to transfer the money in excess of $250,000 into a certificate of deposit and hire a staffer to oversee ridership on the regional routes.

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