Illiana Expressway route awaits federal OK

2012-10-23T20:00:00Z 2012-10-25T00:56:04Z Illiana Expressway route awaits federal OKKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com
October 23, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

The state departments of transportation in Indiana and Illinois have asked the federal government to approve a single east-west route for the Illiana Expressway passing north of Lowell and heading due west to Interstate 55 in Illinois.

Following an Oct. 9 recommendation of the Illiana Corridor study team, the two transportation departments submitted a "preferred corridor report" to federal agencies, which could answer back as early as the year's end, said Jim Pinkerton, an Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman.

"People want things to move along so they can get to know what specific areas will be affected," Pinkerton said. "The more specific we can get, that will provide more clarity for the public."

The route chosen for submission was known as B3, which starts at Interstate 65 just south of 153rd Avenue and runs approximately due west between Lowell and Cedar Lake, passes south of the site of the proposed airport at Peotone and on to I-55 in Illinois.

The route submitted to federal officials is actually a 2,000-foot wide corridor. If that corridor wins federal approval, it would be further refined to a 400-foot wide swath in an engineering and finance study to commence next year, Pinkerton said.

The states also have included a "no-build option" in their report, which outlines what would happen if the expressway was not built. Assessment of that option is a federal requirement.

The joint INDOT and Illinois Department of Transportation preferred corridor report was a disappointment for Lowell officials, who earlier this year forced the Illiana Corridor Planning Group to reconsider a route known as B4. That route would have started at I-65 just south of 205th Avenue and passed south of Lowell before heading northwest to join up with the B3 route just past the state line.

"We don't want this toll road because we don't see the benefit to Indiana or to our community in particular," said Lowell Town Councilman Craig Earley.

Don Carnahan, who lives just off the B3 route on the shores of Lake Julia, said he also thinks that route was the only one seriously considered.

"It was a slam dunk, "Carnahan said. "They are just keeping it as far north as they can."

In recent weeks, both INDOT and IDOT personnel have been in the area around his home taking soil samples and performing other tasks, he said.

Town Council President Phillip Kuiper said years of studies and meetings seemed to serve only to confirm the original "Blue Line" for the Illiana Expressway route, which was published by INDOT years ago.

Emergency response remains one of the council's biggest concerns when it comes to the Illiana Expressway, Earley said.

"Whether the route is north or south, we still have the problem of providing emergency response services to the other side of that road," Earley said.

He said INDOT's responses on that score have been sketchy at best, with the agency not specifying what north-south routes will have to be severed at the Illiana Expressway and which will get overpasses or underpasses.

Comments submitted by the public Aug. 1 at a hearing in Lowell, as well as those submitted during the comment period, will also get a close going-over by federal agencies when they review the environmental impact statement, said John Swanson, executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

That includes statements submitted by NIRPC pointing out large discrepancies between its own population forecasts for the region and those included in the draft environmental impact statement developed by consultants for the two states.

Any plan to build an Illiana Expressway eventually would have to be approved by NIRPC for inclusion in its four-year Transportation Improvement Plan as well as its long-range 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.

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