PORTAGE │ After a lengthy process, a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee on Wednesday decided it couldn’t come to a consensus on whether to recommend the proposed Illiana Expressway.
The move by the Pathway to 2040 Implementation Committee comes a day after NIRPC’s Transportation Policy Committee voted to recommend the Illiana.
The full NIRPC board will vote on the Illiana at a Dec. 12 meeting.
Several failed motions led up to the Pathway’s no consensus decision.
One was to declare a “no finding.” Another was for the committee to not endorse the Illiana, owing to inconsistencies and uncertainties as expressed in a NIRPC staff report. Another was to include the Illiana in the 2040 plan, along with the I-65 expansion, and one that the Illiana is generally consistent with the 2040 plan.
All failed. And some members of the committee left the meeting during the call for motions.
“We’ve not found a majority in favor of much of anything today,” Chairman Michael Griffin said. “I think that’s OK.”
Committee member Christopher Meyers asked if an action needed to take place. Griffin said he believed it did.
“The chair may believe that but some members do not,” Meyers said. “I feel this committee is supposed to take a look at this and assess the issue of whether or not to recommend (or) not recommend. We should come up with a position.”
Issues of concern to members of the committee and the public included the financial part of the Illiana, the effect it would have environmentally and also on emergency services.
Patricia Mussman, of West Creek Township, said the Illiana would be a burden on the Tri-Creek ambulance service and volunteer fire department.
“No one to date has addressed that with satisfactory answers,” she said.
Mussman said money spent on the project could be better spent on different areas. She said if the Illiana is approved, Illinois would fast-track the Peotone airport.
“Why would we shoot ourselves in the foot and give them a stronghold and destroy the Gary airport?” she said.
Sandy Linden, of Lowell, said she’s all for union jobs but as a taxpayer doesn’t see any benefit to the Illiana. She said analysis shows that the Illiana would take jobs away from north Lake County and promote urban sprawl.
On the other side of the argument, Mark Poulos, Executive Director of the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, said his group believes it’s a much-needed project for Northwest Indiana and the entire region.
“The Illiana will help get trucks off local roads and onto a highway that was meant to handle them,” he said. “People of Northwest Indiana deserve a relief valve from all the heavy truck traffic passing through their communities.”
Poulos said the Illiana would generate more than 1,000 short-term jobs from 2015 to 2018 and that the Indiana Department of Transportation estimated the corridor will generate $3.87 billion in long-term economic impacts by 2048 and save $10.2 million per year in travel times for the region.
“We believe it will help alleviate traffic and provide a much-needed boost to the economy,” he said.
Kay Nelson, director of environmental affairs for the Northwest Indiana Forum, said the Illiana will provide new business development opportunities, strengthen existing businesses and enhance tourism while minimizing current and future congestion which adds an added benefit of reduced air pollution.
The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 in Indiana, with an interchange just south of the 153rd St. overpass, to Interstate 55 in Illinois, with an interchange where the Washington St. interchange is now. The route is generally a straight shot east-west with some deviations.