Illiana Expressway vote scheduled Tuesday

2013-12-01T06:00:00Z Illiana Expressway vote scheduled TuesdayBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

The first step in a two-step process toward approving the Illiana Expressway will take place Tuesday when a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee votes on the controversial bi-state project.

Anticipating a crowd, NIRPC's Transportation Policy Committee has moved its meeting from NIRPC headquarters to the Sycamore Room, Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road, Portage. The meeting starts at 9 a.m.

The committee will be acting on a request from the Indiana Department of Transportation to approve including the Illiana Expressway in its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, which calls for reviving northern cities and creating livable communities throughout the region. Also included in the same vote will be an INDOT request to approve widening of Interstate 65.

The committee's vote will be passed to the full NIRPC board as a recommendation. The full board is scheduled to take the decisive vote on the Illiana Expressway on Dec. 12. If the board votes against including the expressway in its 2040 plan, it would not be eligible for the needed federal approvals.

The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill.

Last week, the NIRPC staff issued a report which delivered a mixed verdict on the Illiana Expressway. The report found the expressway will have a positive impact on many of the 2040 plan's goals but could stymie some others.

The Illiana Expressway has already had one large positive impact in that it has the broader community reading, discussing and thinking about NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, said NIRPC Executive Director Tyson Warner.

"We really want folks interacting with the 2040 plan and helping decide how the vision of the plan can best be met," Warner said last week.

Transportation Policy Committee Chairman Shawn Pettit has already said he will allow public comment on the Illiana Expressway prior to Tuesday's vote. The committee also will consider approving a long-debated public participation plan that also has vociferous criticism against it.

The Transportation Policy Committee is a huge one with 81 members total. Those members are drawn from all municipalities and county governments in the three-county region. It also includes members of environmental groups, public transit agencies and state and federal transportation agencies.

However, those in some of the latter named categories often act only in an advisory capacity to the committee, refraining from votes on regional issues. For example, at a Transportation Policy Committee meeting last month in which an Illiana Expressway congestion management report was approved, local transit agencies abstained from the vote.

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