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NIRPC policy committee OKs Illiana plan

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub objects constructithe
IllianExpressway Tuesday morning Northwestern IndianRegional
Planning Commissimeeting. 'This is not answer' he said. | Carole

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub objects to construction of the Illiana Expressway Tuesday morning at a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission meeting. "This is not the answer," he said. | Carole Carlson/Sun-Times Media

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If you go

What: NIRPC meeting and vote on Illiana

When: 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 12

Where: Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road, Portage

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Updated: January 5, 2014 6:23AM

PORTAGE — By an 18-8 vote with one abstention, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Policy Committee agreed to add the Illiana Tollway to its 2040 master plan.

The future of the project in Indiana will now be voted on by the full NIRPC board at its Dec. 12 meeting.

If the NIRPC board votes it down, the project would be stopped. The meeting will take place at Woodland Park.

The Indiana Department of Transportation wants NIRPC to add the 47-mile bistate Illiana to its 2040 master plan.

The committee listened to nearly two hours of public comment Tuesday. Jim Pinkerton, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, said the state’s up front costs for the road were estimated at about $110 million, not the previously reported $180 million.

Jim Earl of INDOT said from 2018 to 2053, the net toll revenue would exceed the total project cost.

Lowell resident Jean Hulsey, who said Illiana would run just south of her property, said she was disappointed with the vote. “People do not give a darn about the feelings of others. It’s going to pollute the area.”

Lowell resident Ed Linden said he was dismayed that the widening of Interstate 65, from Indiana 231 to Indiana 2, was packaged with INDOT’s request for Illiana’s inclusion in the NIRPC 2040 plan.

“They want to make this smell better,” he said.

There’s also been pushback on the highway from north Lake County elected officials who favored NIRPC’s master plan focus on reviving Northwest Indiana’s urban core cities. Some south Lake County officials also oppose Illiana.

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, who represents south Lake County, was first to speak Tuesday and voiced his opposition.

“Our most important issue is to re-energize our northern cities,” Scheub said. “We should put the money that’s going into this project into reviving them.”

State Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, questioned whether the toll road would provide any economic benefits in the long run.

“[Motorists] don’t get on a tollway to go shopping,” Neimeyer said, “they get on a tollway to get through your area quickly.”

William Hathaway of Lowell suggested that if the Illiana moves forward, NIRPC should require the future investors in the public-private partnership of the tollway to be responsible for the investment, rather than placing the burden of paying any debt on taxpayers.

The tollway’s supporters include Gov. Mike Pence and Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn, along with labor leaders who see the road as a construction job boon and a spark for economic development.

Kay Nelson of the Northwest Indiana Forum, spoke in support of the plan, saying investments in infrastructure help drive economic development.

Dewey Pearman, executive director of Construction Advancement Foundation, said local workers from Indiana will be hired, regardless of which contractor receives the work.

Gary City Planner Dwayne Williams was the only abstaining vote, saying the city’s mayor is still gathering information on the Illiana before the Dec. 12 vote.

“We’re open to other sources of information,” Williams said, “but I’m confident the mayor will make the right choice for our city.”

An INDOT request for support of the widening of Interstate 65 from U.S. 30 south to Indiana 2 is also included in the committee vote.

The Indiana portion of the Illiana would run from the state line east to Interstate 65, just northeast of Lowell. The Illinois section is designed to run through Will and Kankakee counties to Interstate 57 and Interstate 55.

The entire highway is expected to cost about $1.5 billion with Indiana’s share at about $300 million. Officials from both states believe the so-called public/private partnership concept will lead to building the Illiana quicker and cheaper.

NIRPC staff members compiled a recent white paper to measure how the Illiana project measured to each of the goals listed in its 2040 plan. Each goal was ranked by whether the proposed tollway would be consistent, inconsistent, neutral, mixed or uncertain.

INDOT provided an analysis of the white paper, saying the project was consistent or neutral to the 2040 plan more often than inconsistent.

Ty Warner, the NIRPC executive director, was surprised by the table that showed the number of consistent over inconsistent rankings in the white paper. He said the goal of the report was to let people look at each goal and weigh their importance based on their own values.

“We wanted each goal in the report to be looked at individually,” Warner said. “That’s why we specifically didn’t provide a tally.”

Post-Tribune staff reporter Matt Mikus contributed.

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