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McDermott bashes Illiana, Gary mayor undecided

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott had come out against toll road. | Post-Tribune File Photo

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott had come out against the toll road. | Post-Tribune File Photo

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Illiana final vote

When: 9 a.m. Thursday

Where: Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road Portage

Who: Northwestern Indiana Regional Plan Commission board

Updated: January 14, 2014 12:29PM

Despite an hourlong conversation with Gov. Mike Pence, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Wednesday he’s opposed to construction of the Illiana Expressway in south Lake County.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she’s still on the fence.

McDermott and Freeman-Wilson are among 53 voting members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Plan Commission, tasked with determining the fate of the proposed 47-mile bistate highway. The vote takes place at a 9 a.m. meeting at Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road, in Portage.

McDermott said he weighed the pros and cons at length and believes Illiana does not conform to NIRPC’s 2040 plan that focuses on revitalization of Lake County’s urban core. He also said Illiana would contribute to urban sprawl in the south of Lake County and disinvestment in his own city.

Illiana has the support of Indiana’s Republican governor and Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn, a Democrat. Transportation departments from both states have been drawing up route scenarios and holding public meetings on Illiana for the past few years.

Only about 10 miles of Illiana would be in Indiana, at least for now. Officials say the highway will ease truck congestion along busy Interstate 80/94, routing trucks south from an intermodal hub near Wilmington, Ill.

McDermott said he will call for a “weighted” vote Thursday that’s based on population. NIRPC bylaws call for the municipal vote percentages based on the 2000 census. That gives Freeman-Wilson’s vote the most clout, followed closely by McDermott’s ballot.

Freeman-Wilson said Wednesday she’s still undecided and still “receiving information” to help determine her vote.

Freeman-Wilson wants the state to adopt a model used by a committee of the Gary Airport Authority that devised a public/private partnership with Aviation Facilities Company Inc. The agreement sets quotas for local job participation and job training.

Freeman-Wilson said she’s not worried about Illiana paving the way for a third major airport at Peotone, Ill.

“It’s hard to be concerned about something that doesn’t exist,” she said. “Right now, we have the actual airport and expansion of the actual runway.”

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