The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission will begin moving soon to amend its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan to include the new Cline Avenue Bridge, which a private investment group has pledged to build.
Public comment could be solicited as early as this month, said NIRPC Transportation Projects Manager Gary Evers. NIRPC will analyze the new bridge just as it did the Illiana Expressway, which was moved into the agency's 2040 plan last month.
"It will be us doing what we know is the right thing to do as far as bringing it into our plan," Evers said. "If this is the only way they can get this done, then we're game."
The Cline Avenue Bridge has been a magnet for controversy ever since it was condemned in December 2009. The state initially pledged to replace it and then reversed itself. It then found a private investment group that pledged to build a new bridge at no cost to the state.
INDOT turned the Cline Avenue Bridge right-of-way over to that group, United Bridge Partners, earlier this year. The lead partner in that investment group, the Figg Group, of Tallahassee, Fla., did not respond to requests for comment.
It is not absolutely clear that NIRPC has to approve the project for it to go forward, since it would be done privately on land now owned by United Bridge Partners.
However, the 1.2-mile bridge will be a project of regional significance and a key link on a state highway connecting major interstates, Evers said. Traffic on the road also will affect the region's ability to comply with air pollution regulations.
For those reasons, NIRPC feels it is essential that it be part of the process, Evers said.
For the Illiana Expressway, NIRPC's approval was absolutely essential to moving the project forward, as public funds are being expended and it will be built on land acquired by the states.
The NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee and full board could take a vote as soon as March or April on including the Cline Avenue Bridge in its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan and its shorter-term Transportation Improvement Plan, Evers said.
NIRPC will perform analysis to see how the bridge will affect traffic congestion, air pollution and disadvantaged communities, Evers said. That was the same process followed for the Illiana Expressway.