Elimination of Toll Road exit still in play

2012-07-10T18:30:00Z 2012-07-12T00:25:05Z Elimination of Toll Road exit still in playBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The private operator of the Indiana Toll Road continues to study the possible elimination of westbound Exit 21 and still plans to make a decision by this fall, according to ITR Concession Co. spokeswoman Amber Kettring.

ITR Concession Co. will convene a key meeting next month with Indiana Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration officials do discuss the future of the Exit 21 interchange in Lake Station, Kettring said.

The closure of any part of the interchange would require public hearings, Kettring said. It also would require INDOT approval.

"We are working very closely with INDOT officials in that area," Kettring said Tuesday. "It is a joint effort."

Toll Road westbound Exit 21 is the only direct westbound connection between the privately operated Toll Road and the Borman Expressway. When the ramp was closed last summer for repairs motorists were told to go to westbound Exit 17 in Gary to access the Borman via Interstate 65.

The primary option being considered remains rebuilding the aging, twisting ramps at Exit 21 in some way, Kettring said. Although that may include eliminating westbound Exit 21, it now appears unlikely the entire interchange would be eliminated, Kettring said.

Bill Brown, NIRPC transportation planning manager, told a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee Tuesday he had completed studies of how various options being considered would affect air pollution in the region. Those studies are required by federal regulations.

Brown said he delivered reports on three options for Exit 21: rebuilding the entire ramp network, eliminating the westbound exit ramp or eliminating the interchange altogether.

On the subject of mass transit, NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee members heard Tuesday that an emergency plan to provide paratransit rides in the defunct easygo Lake Transit service area still is a work in progress.

NIRPC now wants to use a $100,000 grant committed by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority for a three-year pilot transit program. That plan would include paratransit rides for people with disabilities as well as an expansion of on-demand service for the elderly and others.

NIRPC Transit Planner Belinda Petroskey said the paratransit plan implemented on an emergency basis last week following easygo's June 30 shutdown has caused confusion. That plan divided up the former easygo territory into eight transit areas with at least five providers for riders to call.

That patchwork solution has led to anomalies in which a rider can get a paratransit ride from downtown Hammond to Methodist Hospital Southlake Campus, in Merrillville, a distance of 19 miles, but may not be able to get a ride from the same starting point to the Franciscan Physicians Hospital, in Munster, just six miles away.

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