Updated: December 4, 2013 6:47AM
GARY — Planners held the first of four sessions Saturday aimed at giving the public a chance to learn about and comment on the proposed Illiana Expressway that would cut through southern Lake County.
Staff members with Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, in the first session held at Indiana University Northwest’s John W. Anderson Library, provided information on the proposed tollway linking Interstate 55 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana.
NIRPC’s public meetings are designed to offer one-on-one conversations with the public, assisted with informational graphics.
Three more meetings are scheduled throughout the region, including 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Lowell Middle School, where a large crowd is expected to turn out because of the meeting’s proximity to the proposed highway.
Portage will host a meeting at the NIRPC office from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13. A meeting will also be held at Michigan City’s City Hall from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Depending on how many people attend a public meeting and the atmosphere, staff members will either provide a formal presentation or an informal conversational approach.
“The key is flexibility,” said NIRPC staff member Belinda Petroskey. “We want people to feel comfortable enough to come to us with questions.”
Computers and comment cards were available for the public to submit their concerns at the session Saturday.
The public can also submit comments via email at email@example.com, by calling (219) 736-6060, Ext. 160, or by mail at 6100 Southport Road, Portage IN 46368.
The public comment period began Oct. 14, but Deputy Director Steve Strains said any letters or comments made during the calendar year about the Illiana will be included in the report.
With a Dec. 12 deadline to vote on the Illiana, both the Indiana Department of Transportation and NIRPC staff will continue to provide additional reports and information for the planning commission.
A fiscal constraint report from INDOT focusing on how the project would be financed should be completed around Nov. 9.
Mitch Barloga of NIRPC said a white paper outlining how the Illiana conforms or fails to conform with the commission’s 2040 plan should be completed around Nov. 16. The report will remain neutral, he said, allowing the commissioners to form their own opinions, but it will include best practices suggestions.