Fed agency recommends NIRPC be made more accessible

2013-06-20T14:30:00Z 2013-06-20T16:19:17Z Fed agency recommends NIRPC be made more accessibleBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Federal transportation officials are urging NIRPC to make a good faith effort to address concerns raised by disability-rights groups, which could include locating its headquarters near a South Shore commuter station.

“To demonstrate sincerity in addressing this issue, you could do well by locating NIRPC near a NICTD transit stop,” the Federal Transit Administration's Reginald Arkell told the NIRPC executive board at its meeting Thursday.

The recommendation comes as the federal agency works with the Federal Highway Administration on a four-year certification review of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The federal agencies plan to issue a written report by the end of summer

It also came a day after people with disabilities and advocate groups gave Arkell and other federal officials an earful at a public hearing at Indiana University Northwest.

“We do have ongoing concerns about complaints we have heard at public meetings in the last few days,” Arkell said.

The recommendation to consider locating NIRPC headquarters near a South Shore train stop to increase accessibility comes as the NIRPC is considering three bids for headquarters space.

One bid is from the owner of its current building in Portage, another is for a location in downtown Hammond and a third is located in a business park in Michigan City.

The Hammond and Portage locations are in proximity to NICTD stops, but only the Hammond stop is connected by sidewalks.

At the beginning of Thursday's meeting at NIRPC headquarters, chairman David Uran announced an ad hoc committee would meet July 2 to hear the concerns of the disability-rights group Everybody Counts when it comes to NIRPC's public participation plan.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland volunteered to chair the five-member committee. Uran said the NIPRC board will not vote or take any action on its proposed public participation plan until it has something before it from the ad hoc committee.

The NIRPC executive board on Thursday also approved $1.78 million in funding for four hike and bike trails and a safe routes to school project. Among projects funded are engineering and land purchases for what will be the first full-fledged hike and bike connection between the Marquette Greenway and the city of Chicago.

Once it is built, that trail will represent a milestone in the development of Northwest Indiana's network of hike and bike trails as well as the Marquette Greenway, according to Mitch Barloga, NIRPC's non-motorized transportation planner.

NIRPC also adopted the Active Transportation Alliance of Chicago's complete streets manual as its official guidelines for future projects. The complete streets guidelines are designed to make streets more pedestrian and bike friendly, as well as safer for motorists.

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