Feds listen to region transportation needs

2013-06-19T16:00:00Z 2013-06-19T16:57:08Z Feds listen to region transportation needsBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Federal transportation officials heard a litany of complaints about the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and region transit on Wednesday at a hearing at Indiana University Northwest.

People with disabilities and advocates at a hearing at the Bruce W. Bergland Auditorium charged NIRPC and region transit have failed them for decades, with the situation continuing to deteriorate.

"You can't plan a transportation system for me without me being included in it," said Renae Jackson, who uses a wheelchair to get around.

Many of the complaints centered around the dissolution of Hammond bus service last year and the calling of police to a recent NIRPC meeting after people with disabilities showed up to voice complaints. People also said NIRPC's revised public participation plan is being put together without their input.

A number of NIRPC officials and staff were present at the hearing, with NIRPC Executive Director Tyson Warner taking notes on an electronic tablet throughout as people testified.

After the meeting, Warner said the hearing provided a good opportunity to listen to people's concerns. He said NIRPC has been aware of many of the issues raised for some time, but the agency's view of what is going on differs from much of what was said.

"Everybody is concerned about the lack of regional transit service," Warner said. "And NIRPC as much as, if not more than, anyone would like to see successful regional transit."

Federal transportation officials have spent the last couple of days conducting an audit and review at NIRPC as part of a certification review conducted every four years, said Federal Transit Administration Community Planner Reggie Arkell at the start of the hearing.

On Thursday, federal transportation officials will attend the 9 a.m. NIRPC meeting in Portage to give tentative findings from their review. By the end of summer they should be ready to issue a final report, Arkell said.

If the audit and review find no shortcomings, NIRPC will be recertified as the federally-authorized transportation planning agency for Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. But federal officials could also take other actions, including recertifying NIRPC with requirements for improvement or even denying it certification, which would essentially put it out of business.

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