PORTAGE │ Although the vote to approve construction of the Cline Avenue bridge was largely ceremonial, there was still discontent among members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on Thursday.
The commission approved adding the Cline Avenue bridge to the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan and NIRPC’s Transportation Improvement Program.
The only “no” votes were from Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong.
McDermott was concerned that blue collar steel workers would have to pay between $6 to $8 per day using the toll bridge twice as they arrive and leave from work. Most likely, he said, they will opt to use the surrounding “free streets,” therefore defeating some of the purpose of the bridge bringing traffic off local streets.
He said local residents already pay toll money that goes to the Interstate 69 project connecting Evansville to Indianapolis, and that people traveling from there to this part of the state using a newly widened I-65 will never pay more than $2 a year on the Indiana Toll Road.
“We’re being treated different than any other part of the state,” he said.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, told McDermott that if he wanted to vote against the bridge, it would only hurt the region. He said Lake County is the second highest recipient for state funds for infrastructure in the state.
“Vote against it, fine. Nobody in the state is going to care for five minutes,” he said. “This is what the city of East Chicago agreed to as a solution that was acceptable. If you’re making some kind of statement you need to think of the unintended consequences for the region.”
McDermott said he took that to mean that there would be repercussions if the bridge was voted down.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland got into the mix and said he loves it when everybody says, “let’s talk regional” and “can we all get along?”
“Just let the foolishness stop today,” he said.
The commission also approved the amendment to widen I-65 from US 231 South to Ind. 2 to three lanes in both directions.
In other news Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres was nearly kicked out of the meeting during the public comment portion when her comments were not allowed because they weren’t part of the agenda.
The commission was forced to take a recess when Torres refused to sit down and abstain from commenting. She was asked to leave the room but refused.
Torres said her items were on the agenda.