Lakeshore News Tonight

NIRPC Transportation Committee Passes Illiana Amendment

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December 3, 2013 — A public comment session today in Portage about the Illiana Expressway and Interstate 65 added travel lanes amendment was nothing short of theatrics.

One-by-one Lake County residents compared the public-private partnership to every failed venture that took place in the last decade.  The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Policy Committee heard from individuals for and against the measure to support the Illiana Corridor project.  The project involves more than 40 miles of interstate highway construction connecting I-65 near Lowell, Indiana to I-55 near Wilmington, Illinois.

The Committee heard public comments today in order to give the go ahead for the project to the full commission.  One of those comments came from Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub who says although the project will run through Lowell and Cedar Lake, there’s nothing in it for Lake County.

“Be it resolved by the Board of Commissioners, County of Lake, that as county executives, this unit of government is not in favor of either the Illinana expressway at all or its present location,” Scheub stated while reading a resolution from the County Commission.

Despite opposition, the NIRPC committee voted 18-8, with one abstention, for Illiana and the I-65 change.

“An additional major roadway will provide construction jobs, new business develop opportunities, strengthen existing businesses and enhance tourism while minimizing current and future congestion,” said Kay Nelson, Northwest Indiana Form Environmental Affairs Director.

There are others who say the congestion will not improve because Illiana is a toll road, one that is too expensive for big rig drivers.

Chicago resident Paul Botts attended a similar meeting in Illinois.  He told the group, “In Chicago, the Illinois Department of Transportation stated on the record that the truck toll to use the Illiana will be $15 each way.  Go try asking some actual truck drivers whether they will pay that toll rather than use the roads where the free expressway is just a few miles away.  When the truckers stop laughing you’ll know how much the Illiana is going to help with congestion around here.”

Some said the transportation departments leading the project have promised private companies financing the deal money, even if the final cost is to the taxpayers.

County Commissioner Scheub said, “Our most pressing need in Northwest Indiana is to reenergize our northern cities.  That’s important.  That’s skilled labor jobs that we can put in effect right now.  It’s going to be five years before you even put a shovel in the ground.  We can take the money that slated to put into this road, 200 million or whatever it is, and put it in the northern end of Lake, Porter and La Porte Counties.”

Pat Mussman with No Illiana for Us said, “The Illiana, who knows where those construction companies are going to come from and whose actually going to get those jobs.  We need a trauma center in the northern part of Lake County.  Gary would be the perfect place to put it.”

The committee will recommend that Illiana be added to the Region’s 2040 plan.  The full Commission votes next Thursday.

By Renetta DuBose

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