Feds not yet on record for Illiana

2013-01-10T11:16:00Z 2013-01-10T16:46:06Z Feds not yet on record for IllianaBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Despite a confident assurance from a state transportation official one month ago, federal agencies have yet to put their final stamp of approval on a proposed route for the Illiana Expressway.

No record of decision had appeared in the Federal Register as of Thursday afternoon and earlier this week Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Pinkerton acknowledged the required approval was not yet in hand.

"We were hoping for the end of the year, but we thought it could go into January," Pinkerton said after a meeting of a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee on Tuesday.

At a NIRPC meeting Dec. 13, INDOT Director of Program Management Greg Kicinski told commissioners federal agencies had signed off on the proposed route and a record of decision was expected by the end of the year.

The record of decision would represent final federal approval for the phase I environmental study that INDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation have been conducting for the past two years. The decision would kick off a phase II environmental study, which would deal with the engineering and financing of the roadway.

INDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation in October submitted their phase I environmental study, asking federal agencies to approve a 2,000-foot corridor for the road. That corridor starts at Interstate 65 just south of 153rd Avenue and runs due west between Lowell and Cedar Lake all the way to Interstate 55 in Illinois.

The phase II study the state transportation departments hope to undertake would narrow that corridor to 400 feet.

A South Lake County homeowner at Tuesday's NIRPC committee meeting protested the transportation agencies' route choice, telling commissioners the Indiana portion of the route is full of wetlands, lakes and unstable soils, according to earlier surveys of the area.

"I'm really against the Illiana Expressway because it interferes with lakes, beautiful forest lands, and wetlands," said Ted Gross, who lives on the shores of Lake Julia north of Lowell.

In the phase I environmental study, a potential Illiana Expressway interchange at Ind. 55 was listed just west of Gross' home.

A public hearing on the Illiana Expressway in August at Lowell Middle School drew 750 people, including protest groups handing out anti-Illiana signs.

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