PORTAGE | Transportation issues and creating connections between people and communities occupied the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission during its full board meeting Thursday.
The commission discussed the proposed amendment the 2014-2017 Transportation Improvement Program and NIRPC’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan to include the proposed Illiana Expressway and I-65 expansion. There’s also a new Air Quality Conformity Analysis that includes these projects.
These three items will be subject to a 30-day public comment period that started Oct. 14 and ends Nov. 20. Four public meetings will take place and commissioners were encouraged to attend the meetings at Indiana University Northwest, Lowell Middle School, NIRPC headquarters in Portage and at Michigan City City Hall.
On Dec 3, the agency's Transportation Policy Committee will vote on amending its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan to include the Illiana Expressway. On Dec. 12 the full NIRPC board will take a vote on the same issue.
The full board must approve including the Illiana Expressway in its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan in order for the Indiana Department of Transportation to receive federal approval for its portion of the toll road.
Following the end of the comment period, the summary report will be presented to NIRPC’s Transportation Policy Committee, said committee chairman Shawn Pettit of the Merrillville Town Council.
Transportation problems with the operation of buses provided by South Lake Community Services to members of the disability community were presented to the commissioners by William McCraven Sr. of Merrillville, a member of the audience and a visually-impaired veteran.
NIRPC Chairman and Crown Point Mayor David Uran said McCraven brought the discontinuation of door-to-door service by South Lake Community Services to his attention during a protest rally Wednesday outside Crown Point City Hall.
Transportation is one of NIRPC’s mandates, Uran said.
Because of damage to an entrance system to a residential complex at 8400 Grant St., South Lake Community Services now requires disabled residents to walk outside the four buildings more than 50 feet to board the buses.
“If you’re in a wheelchair, you’re not going to be able to get there,” McCraven said. “It was and should be door-to-door service.”
Uran said NIRPC funds South Lake Community Services and called for a motion to authorize NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner to make certain the service complies with the required door-to-door service.
In other business, the commissioners heard a presentation by NIRPC Planner Eman Ibrahim about the Livable Communities initiative after which they voted to adopt the initiative, which will include grants available to cities and towns.
Ibrahim said Lake and Porter counties have pledged $400,000 to help Northwest Indiana municipalities create walkable downtown centers and support a mix of uses with a concentrated accessible area.
She said in meetings with officials from 19 larger cities and towns and 22 smaller communities within Lake and Porter counties, only Dune Acres opted not to participate in the Livable Communities project.