About a dozen South Lake County residents learned Wednesday the Illiana Expressway will have to win the approval of local elected officials from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties if it is to become reality.
The planned bistate, 50-mile toll road must be included in the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, an action that would take a yes vote by its 53-member board, said NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Bill Brown.
"In the end, it's a decision of the local elected officials if the Illiana becomes part of our plan," Brown said Wednesday at a briefing conducted at the Cedar Lake Town Clubhouse.
NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan was passed by the NIRPC board last year after three years of public input, discussion and debate. According to federal regulations, NIRPC would have to amend its 2040 plan for the Illiana Expressway to go forward.
Indiana Department of Transportation officials had been expected to deliver a briefing on the Illiana Expressway at Wednesday's meeting, but INDOT officials canceled late last week. They now are expected to brief NIRPC at its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Dec. 13 at the planning group's Portage headquarters, said NIRPC Executive Director John Swanson.
It appears NIRPC and INDOT are trying to avoid a replay of last year's standoff between the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization and INDOT over the Interstate 69 extension. INDOT Acting LaPorte District Director Bob Alderman frequently attends NIRPC meetings and extols the benefits of the proposed Illiana Expressway.
Some South Lake County residents were skeptical of how much say NIRPC will have in the matter.
"I feel INDOT has neglected us here, and we are all wondering does INDOT have more power than you and can they get this highway through without your approval?" asked Ted Gross, who lives where one of the road's main interchanges would go just northeast of Lowell.
Brown said NIRPC will work in partnership with INDOT to reach an understanding on the Illiana Expressway. But he maintained the partnership is an equal one.
"The fact is if it's not included in our plan, it can't be built," he said.
South Lake County resident Marilyn Dockstader said the Illiana Expressway appears to present a "major conflict" with NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan in that it would pull economic development away from the region's major cities on the shores of Lake Michigan.
"Well said," Brown said. "That's just the issue."