NWI planners contemplate new expressway
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent December 13, 2012 7:10PM
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:31AM
PORTAGE — Indiana Department of Transportation officials will begin the process of getting NIRPC to consider including the proposed B3 route for the Illiana Expressway in the commission’s 2040 plan.
Greg Kocinski, director of project management for INDOT and project manager of the highway, on Thursday updated members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on the proposal and what will come next.
Kocinski said the Tier I study has been completed and a record of determination that will allow the project to move into the Tier II study is expected by the end of the year or in January. The Tier II report will involve environmental studies and a refining of the 2,000-foot corridor to a width of about 400 feet.
This is the portion of the study where the location of interchanges and overpasses will be determined. The method of funding the highway, which is expected to involve a public-private partnership, also will be identified. Following the Tier II study, another record of determination will be issued and INDOT can then begin acquiring land.
While the process is moving forward, Kocinksi said after the meeting the project will have to be included in NIRPC’s 2040 plan before it can move forward.
“It needs to be in NIRPC’s plan,” Kocinski said.
That means the project must meet the region’s air quality modeling, among other matters. A funding source for the project also must be identified before NIRPC will consider the project for inclusion.
The expressway does not appear to have the support of all the commissioners though a unanimous vote is not required to include the expressway in the plan.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she would like to know if anyone has studied the impact the southern Lake County expressway would have on the economies of northern Lake County cities since it is expected to divert traffic from Interstate 80/94.
“Really there are no positives, no incentives, no upsides to the northern area,” Freeman-Wilson said. Diverting truck traffic off I-80/94 would harm her city and the four truck stops in it, she said.
Lowell Town Councilman Don Parker said Indiana officials need to become more proactive in planning for the expressway because it appears to be on the way whether it is wanted or not. The project has been discussed for more than two decades but gained steam in 2010 after an interlocal agreement was reached with Illinois.
Parker said the issue has divided his town, but if officials continue to take the stance that the Illiana may not come, they will lose control over how it is developed.
“Our legislators and county officials are not as involved as they should be,” Parker said.
If Indiana officials are not careful, he said, the expressway will become an Indiana driveway to the Peotone, Ill., airport. He said Illinois communities such as Crete and Manhattan already are luring intermodal development in anticipation of the expressway and Indiana is going to lose out.
“They are planning and they are going to see the benefit. There’s a high benefit for us. We have to be involved in our destiny,” Parker said.