Representatives from the Indiana Department of Transportation and contractors working to study the environmental impacts of the Illiana Expressway addressed the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's environmental arm Thursday.

The group detailed ongoing studies as part of the environmental impact study being crafted on the potential impacts of the project to wetlands, water bodies, wildlife and natural areas.

Jed Anderson with Christopher Burke Engineering said field studies are underway for potential mitigation for impaired waters.

"We want to make this as natural as possible using native vegetation," Anderson said.

Greg Quartucci, senior consultant at Cardno JF New, said the footprint of the Illiana includes about 100 acres of wetlands and no endangered species.

"We're looking at alternatives to avoid impacts and that's what we're assessing at this phase of the project," Quartucci said.

The Illiana Expressway would run from Interstate 65 in Indiana, near Lowell, to Interstate 55 in Illinois, near Wilmington, a distance of about 47 miles. Its cost is estimated at $1.3 billion.

Mark Reshkin, a retired geology professor from Indiana University Northwest, said he believes any negative impact on the water in the Kankakee River Basin must be avoided. Reshkin said wells in the footprint are already beginning to dry up and future development will only add to the problem.

"The area that you're developing can not get access to Lake Michigan water," Reshkin said. "This is a place you shouldn't fool with the water at all."

Quartucci said the studies are "looking at the cumulative impacts."

"There's going to be a lot of mitigation on this project no matter what path is chosen," Quartucci said. "No matter what alternatives are chosen, there are going to be impacts to wetland and we're going to mitigate those."

The environmental impact statement is slated for a draft hearing this fall with a final report to be submitted in the spring.