State Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, and Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, on Thursday took a strong stand against the planned Illiana Expressway, saying it will hurt both south county and north county residents.
"The state has made their statement," Niemeyer said. "They have partnered with Illinois and they think it's a great project. But the best people to make this decision are the local people."
Strong argued for focusing the region's efforts on projects already underway, such as the Gary/Chicago International Airport expansion and revitalizing communities along the lakeshore.
"Let's fix what we have before we make new," he said.
As the two stood in the lobby of the county administration building Thursday afternoon, they were in effect kicking off what figures to be an intense lobbying campaign directed at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
On Dec. 12, the 52-member NIRPC board will vote on including the Illiana Expressway in its long- and short-range transportation plans. The expressway must win an affirmative vote of the commission to gain federal approval.
Both Niemeyer and Strong made it clear they see NIRPC as the body best able to make a last stand against the 47-mile toll road. It would stretch from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill.
However when asked, both said they had not lobbied NIRPC board members directly on the issue. Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, is the Lake County Council representative on the NIRPC board. State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, is the General Assembly representative.
Niemeyer and Strong also said they had hoped to speak out at a Tuesday night public comment meeting hosted by NIRPC at Lowell Middle School, but were disappointed to find it was not an open-microphone type hearing. Instead, people were asked to write their comments on cards that were handed out.
Niemeyer said there needs to be a fuller exchange of views before NIRPC votes. He also noted it was a big decision for him to speak out seeing as Gov. Mike Pence strongly supports the expressway.
"Gov. Pence is a fellow Republican and I agree with him on his policies," Niemeyer said. "But I disagree with him wholeheartedly on this."