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Illiana Passage Gets Welcome in Indy, DC

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December 12, 2013 — Indiana’s governor and its senior U.S. Senator say the Illiana Corridor project can move forward for federal government approval, after a northwest Indiana agency approved the project.

That vote yesterday by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission gives approval to the Illiana Corridor Project for its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.  The Illiana Expressway project is a proposed 47-mile toll highway from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana.

The vote received a response from Washington, D.C., where Indiana’s Republican U.S. Senator Dan Coats praised NIRPC’s action in favor of the Illiana Expressway, “This is an important step toward beginning construction of the Illiana Expressway, and I commend NIRPC for moving the development process forward.  This critically important project will stimulate new economic activity and job opportunities in northwest Indiana.  Given the fiscal constraints our nation is facing in Washington, the Illiana Expressway is a forward-looking solution that leverages innovative private sector funding sources.”

Governor Mike Pence said, “I believe roads mean jobs, and today’s vote on the Illiana Corridor Project brings us one step closer to more jobs for northwestern Indiana. . .  The innovative funding for this project will bring new investment dollars into the state transportation system and allow the Indiana Department of Transportation to make further infrastructure investments that will benefit the region for generations to come.”

Indiana and Illinois are running separate procurements for each state’s segment and will pay contractors “availability payments” based on project milestones and other completion requirements.  Toll revenues for the new roadway are expected to generate between $2.4-billion to $3.8-billion during the life of the public-private partnership contract.

The Illiana Expressway is expected to be constructed from 2015–2018 at a cost of approximately $1.3-billion to $1.5-billion.  The Indiana and Illinois Departments of Transportation are working together to build the project as a public-private partnership, in which a private contractor would design, build and operate the new roadway.  The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s MPO Policy Committee already approved the Illinois segment of the project in October.

In Indiana, the impact of east-west mobility between Indiana and Illinois caused passionate exchange between the members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission at yesterday’s vote.

“We’re taking people’s homes.  We’re changing the landscape of South Lake County,” Mayor Thomas McDermott stated to the commission.

The vote and the three hour debate that preceded it brought an end to the question of whether the 47-mile toll road should be constructed between Interstates 65 near Lowell and 55 in Will County, Illinois.

Indiana Governor appointee and State Rep. Ed Soliday said the expansion is all about a national change in moving goods and services across the country.

“Truck traffic on 80/94 is going to increase by at least 50 percent.  At certain times of the day, 80/94, with all the work that’s been done is still an F rating.  The lowest rating for congestion. 53 percent of the trucks that go through the Chicago business are, which we are part, do not stop for so much as a snickers bar in Chicago or Indiana.”

Hammond mayor Thomas McDermott attempted repeatedly to delay the Illiana vote, but the motions failed.  While both representatives from the Lake County Council and Board of Commissioners opposed Illiana.  Gary mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson threw in her support in hopes of attacking the economic slump in the Steel City.

“Once upon a time, Gary, Hammond and East Chicago could count on one or two employers or one industry to employ a majority of our citizens.  That is not longer the case, so I must work to secure employment for Gary residents in and out of the city,” said Freeman-Wilson.

The Illiana vote passed 29-8.  Opponents, like mayor McDermott, believes the move is a political checkmate.

“When the state shut down Cline Avenue they said only 30,000 cars per day travel on the Cline Avenue Bridge, and they used that as the justification to shut it down.  The projections for the new toll road are going to have less than 30,000 cars per day.  It’s a focus by the state of Indiana to develop south with the exclusion of the north and that’s a problem,” said McDermott.

Vice President of Lowell Town Council Craig Earley initially was speechless and admittedly angry after the body voted in favor of a stretch of land that will run right through many homes and farm land.

Earley said, “There’s going to be a lot of concerns from my local residents and a lot of impacts and no benefits.”

One of Early’s residents affected by Illinana is region native Jean Hulsey, who plans to be buried at her home as big rigs navigate the new route.

Hulsey said, “It was originally to go right through my house.  Now, they have just moved it a little bit north.  So, I’ll just hear the semis going by.”

INDOT reports the project is in Tier Two.  Construction is set to begin in 2015 and end in 2018.  In addition to the toll road, lanes will be added to I-65 between Crown Point and Lowell.

By: Renetta DuBose

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