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Final Illiana meeting in Indiana to be held Tuesday in Lowell

Updated: February 16, 2014 12:11AM



LOWELL — One final public hearing in Indiana on the proposed $1.5 billion Illiana Expressway will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Lowell Middle School, 19250 Cline Ave.

Hosted by the Indiana Department of Transportation, the hearing follows the January release of a lengthy study of the environmental and economic impact of the 47-mile bistate tollway.

A similar public hearing will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Local 150 Training Facilities, 19800 W. Arsenal Road, Wilmington, Ill.

While the Illiana appears to have survived most major hurdles, opponents still hope the highway can be stopped.

But INDOT is moving forward.

Nell Fabish, whose 20 acres of land north of Lowell is in the highway’s path, said Friday that crews have been surveying her land and putting up stakes, even though they’ve been knee-deep in snow. “We’ve been told they’d be drilling as soon as weather allows,” she said.

The tollway will extend only about 10 miles into Lake County from Interstate 55 near Wilmington. It will end at Interstate 65 northeast of Lowell.

Pat Mussman, a vocal opponent who’s part of the “No Illiana for Us” grassroots group, isn’t giving up,though Indiana’s political leaders signed off on the highway in December when the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission added it to its 2040 master plan.

“Until they start buying the land and pouring the concrete, we won’t give up,” said Mussman.

Her husband, Harold Mussman Jr., a West Creek Township trustee, also opposes the road.

She said they’ll set up two tables Tuesday to pass out information about the Illiana and why it shouldn’t be built.

Mussman and environmentalists groups that have filed lawsuits against the road say they have legitimate concerns the federal government should respect as it considers approving the environmental impact study.

The Sierra Club contends the highway shouldn’t be built next to the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie, which provides habitat for sensitive grassland birds. The Sierra Club also says the road would increase flooding and pollution into the Kankakee watershed.

There have also been news stories critical of the tolls needed to sustain the Illiana — and the overall cost to taxpayers.

A recent story in Crain’s Chicago Business stated recent documents suggest tolls could be two, three, even four times as high as on other Illinois Tollway roads. A 16-wheel truck could pay up to $58.13 for the 47-mile trip, while autos would pay $11.81. A motorist in a car could travel the entire 155-mile Indiana Toll Road for $9.70.

The Illiana will be built by private investors who have sent in proposals, but the winner has not been announced yet.

INDOT spokesman Jim Pinkerton said toll rates have not been set yet, so any numbers are pure speculation at this point.

“Those rates won’t be determined until later in the process,” he said.

Pinkerton said the toll structure would be consistent for both states.

Many opponents also have concerns over the financial side, with Indiana proposing an “availability payments” model in which the state pays the contractor a series of set payments based on performance. That model, opponents say, puts less risk on the investor and more risk on taxpayers.



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