Lakeshore News Tonight

NIRPC Votes To Support Illiana Highway Project

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December 12, 2013 — The Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, or NIRPC, is supporting a proposed highway corridor today, voting 29-8 to include the Illiana tollway project in its pathway to 2040 comprehensive regional plan.

Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, Jr. is one of the NIRPC voters, and he joined Lakeshore News last night to discuss that crucial vote by NIRPC to answer a long-standing question about the proposed Illiana project, while local legislators say that vote will affect the economic outlook for northwest Indiana.

Valparaiso Senator Ed Charbonneau says a push to build the Illiana expressway could either have gone forward or hit gridlock and failed, “I was author of that bill, and it could be a massive economic development project for the state of Indiana. It’s very critical.  Again, it gets back to infrastructure, the ability for all of us in Northwest Indiana to travel around the area and avoid congestion.”

Today was the expected deadline for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission executive board to accept or reject a proposed new 47-mile highway project connecting I-55 in Illinois and I-65 in Indiana.

Approval means the estimated $1.3-billion project goes into NIRPC’s long-term 2040 transportation plans for the region and its transportation improvement program.  The commission says if the project is successful, it will reduce traffic on the Borman Expressway by about 8.5%.

Illiana opponents such as Gary State Representative Charlie Brown think the route might drive business away from the area, “I know that some are hesitant because they say it’s a pathway for the building of a Peotone airport, which then would hurt or diminish the importance of the Gary airport, and, they’re also saying it’s not going to take that much traffic off the Borman and transfer it to the Illiana, and I feel just the opposite. I feel like it will be a boon for both projects.”

The chair of the Indiana House of Representatives Roads and Transportation Committee is Valparaiso Representative Ed Soliday.  He says traffic on I-80/94 gets a failing grade from him, but he would boost scores by reducing its truck traffic with the addition of the Illiana, “80/90 is about grade F, and that is the worst congestion you can have at certain times of day.  With the widening of the Panama Canal, alot, alot of traffic is going to start coming our way that used to come into California.  It’s now going to come into Baltimore and Norfolk, and it’s going to come right through us, and so that’s what the Illiana is about. About half of traffic going through Northwest Indiana — truck traffic — does not stop, and it’s not going to Chicago.  It’s going beyond.”

Public hearings for residents to voice their opinions about the corridor ended November 20.  Now, NIRPC’s final say will signal the direction of the region’s next transportation initiatives.

By Hilary Powell

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