Illiana gained green light at end of 2013
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 December 28, 2013 11:14PM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (right) and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence stand on stage together after both spoke during the Illiana Corridor Industry Forum at Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Monday, June 24, 2013. | J.Geil ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 30, 2014 6:40AM
The Illiana Expressway chugged into the home stretch in 2013, driving a wedge between elected officials and property owners over the merits of the 47-mile new highway aimed at moving truck traffic off the Borman Expressway.
Illiana dominated the conversation at several Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission emotion-packed meetings and hearings this year.
The highway drew fire from Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who opposed it because he said it didn’t confirm with NIRPC’s 2040 master plan that focused on revitalizing urban core cities like Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. McDermott said Illiana would lead to disinvestment in his city and create urban sprawl in south Lake County where most residents oppose it.
It engendered support from labor leaders who see the highway as a job magnet. But residents, whose property is in its path, criticized the route and the need for the highway, arguing it could lead to the creation of an airport in Peotone, Ill., hurting the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson sounded a call for harmony, calling Illiana “a regional asset,” that could create benefits such as jobs for her citizens and for Northwest Indiana residents.
INDOT officials have said about 3,350 short-term construction jobs would be created, along with an estimated 6,600 long-term jobs.
INDOT officials said environmental and engineering studies will costs the state between $80 million and $110 million.
In the end, Illiana, a road that’s been talked about for years, won approvals from Indiana and Illinois transportation planning officials.
NIRPC commission members agreed to include Illiana in its 2040 master plan in an resounding 29-8 vote on Dec. 12.
The proposed $1.5 billion bistate highway, which will be operated as a tollway, still needs federal approval.
Public hearings on the environmental impact of the highway will be held in Indiana and Illinois in mid-January with feedback sent to federal officials who could render approval as early as March or April.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Department of Transportation has called for proposals from developers interested in building the small 12-mile stretch in Indiana that’s estimated to cost about $300 million.
Officials from both states believe the so-called public/private partnership concept will lead to building the Illiana Corridor quicker and cheaper. Illinois is seeking developers’ proposals, as well.
The deadline for proposals in Indiana is Jan. 10.
INDOT plans to issue requests for final proposals in May.
Indiana and Illinois are working together to coordinate technical requirements, tolling policy, the federal environmental approval process, and construction schedules. Illiana is expected to be completed in 2018.