Report gives Illiana Expressway thumbs up, thumbs down

2013-11-26T14:45:00Z 2013-12-09T10:51:25Z Report gives Illiana Expressway thumbs up, thumbs downBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on Tuesday issued a mixed verdict on the Illiana Expressway, finding it would meet many of the goals of its long-range plan but fall short on others.

The 55-page staff analysis examines the bi-state expressway's consistency with NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, highlighting in part the need for more environmental safeguards for an expressway that would cut through farmland, wetlands and woods.

NIRPC staff purposely stayed away from taking a stand for or against the Illiana Expressway in the report, said NIRPC Executive Director Tyson Warner. It is up to commissioners and the public to draw their own conclusions when it comes to the expressway's ability to meet the goals of the 2040 plan, he said.

"Some people definitely want this expressway to happen," Warner said. "There are others who have serious concerns about quality of life impacts. But one way or another, the region has to make a decision.

On Dec. 12, the full 52-member NIRPC board will take a vote on whether the Illiana Expressway should be included in its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.

If the board votes to include it, the project can move forward. A vote against inclusion would present a major roadblock for a project that is supported by both the departments of transportation in both states.

The Indiana Department of Transportation issued a brief statement Tuesday it felt that the NIRPC staff report overall supported the benefits the Illiana Expressway project will have for Northwest Indiana.

The 2040 plan was passed by the full NIRPC board in 2011 after an extensive public participation process spanning several years. The plans chief goals are to limit sprawl, revive older cities and create livable communities throughout the region.

The Illiana Expressway would be a toll road running from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55 in Illinois. It has an estimated $1.3 billion price tag.

The Illiana Corridor: 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan Analysis issued Tuesday measures the Illiana Expressway against dozens of goals and objectives laid out in the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan. In effect, it subjects the Illiana Expressway to the same type of detailed analysis and scoring as other projects already included in the 2040 plan.

It points out there are two prerequisites for any project to be admitted to the plan. One is conformity with NIRPC's "complete streets" policy, which says projects to the extent possible should accommodate bicycles, pedestrians and mass transit.

The expressway's impact on complete streets was rated "uncertain" because it does not yet provide for trails that would cross the expressway nor for any kind of trail alongside.

The other prerequisite is to relieve congestion in the region. Last week, a NIRPC report approved by its Transportation Policy Committee found the expressway would relieve traffic on the Borman Expressway and local arterials. So management of congestion earned a "consistent" rating with the 2040 plan.

Somewhat surprisingly, because boosters have promoted the expressway's freight potential, it received "inconsistent" ratings when it came to some freight objectives. Those objectives included shifting modes of transport away from trucking and promoting established freight corridors.

However, the expressway was judged largely consistent with improving the ability of both truckers and commuters to get from place to place and promoting a globally competitive economy for the region.

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