About a dozen people from around the region showed in the first hour for the last public comment session on the Illiana Expressway conducted by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
Held at Michigan City Hall, about a 50-mile drive from the proposed expressway, the meeting took place just a few hours after a vote by a key NIRPC committee to move the Illiana Expressway approval process forward.
Thomas Eaton, of Gary, was not impressed by what he had seen at the NIRPC committee meeting in the morning but said he had come to the afternoon public comment meeting to learn more.
"This Illiana Expressway just puts economic development out there in the middle of nowhere," Eaton said as he looked at maps at the public comment meeting.
Eaton said he was still trying to figure out how the Illiana Expressway promotes the goals outlined in NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan. That plan seeks to limit sprawl and revive older cities.
Tuesday's NIRPC public comment session in Michigan City was the last of four held in the three-county area represented by the commission. Those meetings included one two weeks ago in Lowell, where opposition to the expressway is strongest. The public comment period ends Nov. 20.
Shawn Kaczmarek, who lives just outside Michigan City in Long Beach, said he had been impressed by everyone's sincerity and good faith at the NIRPC committee meeting in the morning. However, he said a pause for the Illiana Expressway project might be in order while more forward-looking ways of moving freight through the region are examined.
The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill. It has an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. Both states hope to attract private investors to put up at least some of that money.
Geof Benson, of Beverly Shores and a NIRPC board member, said he and fellow board members are receiving a large volume of comments from all sides in the debate.
Even those running sophisticated analysis, such as the Indiana Department of Transportation, NIRPC and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, have come up with different forecasts and different information.
"You get a lot of information and you have to question all of it," he said.
Benson will be one of 52 NIRPC board members taking a crucial vote Dec. 12 on whether to include the Illiana Expressway in the agency's long- and short-term transportation plans. A vote in favor will move the expressway project forward. A vote against it could stop the project in its tracks.