Aftermath: Reaction swift after Illiana Expressway vote

2013-12-12T15:35:00Z 2013-12-13T10:56:15Z Aftermath: Reaction swift after Illiana Expressway voteKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
December 12, 2013 3:35 pm  • 

People who build roads and people who might lose their homes to a road started arriving in the subzero temperatures at Portage's Woodland Park one hour before a Thursday meeting that would determine the future for both.

And when the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission voted hours later, those who build roads and others who want them built appeared to have won. Those who fear they might lose homes or a way of life to one, appeared to have lost.

"At least we can say we hung in there and fought the good fight," said Sandy Linden, who has been a leader in the Lowell area's fight against the Illiana Expressway. "And we have no regrets. We did everything we could."

But with federal approvals, property purchases and a solicitation of bidders all still in the works, Linden said no one is giving up in their opposition.

"It's not over," she vowed.

Those who build roads and belong to crafts unions, who easily made up more than half the people in the room, came out clear winners.

"They realize, quite frankly, how important infrastructure is to our area," said Dave Fagan, secretary-treasure of Operating Engineers Local 150. "And they realize how important it is to them as construction workers. And they understand if we are going to compete globally we need more infrastructure."

Both Northwestern Indiana Regional Development Authority Executive Director Bill Hanna and Indiana Department of Transportation region Chief Bob Alderman said the one-sided tally of 76-20 was important to the expressway's future.

"The vast majority of the NIRPC membership clearly stepped up to their responsibility," Alderman said.

Few people stayed for a public comment session that started well after noon, but opponents said that doesn't mean they won't be speaking out as the project winds its way through the federal approval process.

"I think this is going to be a difficult situation for them," said Ted Gross, who lives at the edge of one of the Indiana interchanges planned for the Illiana Expressway. "Some of these people around here are just so up in arms about this."

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