The new federal transportation bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last year cuts funding for local road projects in Northwest Indiana by about 17 percent.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission will have about $11.1 million in federal transportation funds to spend on local road projects this year and in each of the next four in Lake and Porter counties, Transportation Project Manager Gary Evers told a meeting of the commission's Transportation Policy Committee on Tuesday. That compares to the $13.3 million it passed out last year and $13.8 million the year before.
"A 17 percent cut was totally unexpected," Evers said. "We were shocked by that."
Evers asked local community leaders to keep that fact in mind as they prepare to propose new road, bus and other projects for NIRPC's next four-year Transportation Improvement Plan, which will run from 2014 through 2017.
Towns and cities will submit projects they want done through the end of March and a draft list will be drawn up in April, under a timeline laid out at the meeting at NIRPC headquarters by Transportation Planning Manager Bill Brown. On May 10, a 30-day public comment period will start. In June, the new four-year Transportation Improvement Plan will be put up for adoption by the commission.
Projects already in NIRPC's current Transportation Improvement plan range from major ones like the $14.3 million Mississippi Street reconstruction in Merrillville to the $948,075 Grand Calumet bike and hike trail in Hammond. It also includes funds for mass transit such as $1.14 million in operating assistance for Gary Public Transportation Corp.
The new federal transportation bill is called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21. It replaces continuing resolutions passed to replace the previous transportation bill.
Even with the cut in transportation funds, NIRPC is moving ahead with plans to encourage "complete streets" with safe crossings, sidewalks and bike lanes where possible.
NIRPC Nonmotorized Transportation and Greenways Planner Mitch Barloga recommended the commission adopt a complete streets manual put out by the Active Transportation Alliance as its guide for future road projects. The NIRPC executive board could be voting on the proposal next month.
“Complete streets gets a bad rap for being bikes and pedestrians only,” Barloga said. “It's not. It's all modes of transportation.”
NIRPC on Tuesday also closed one comment period and opened a new one on drafts of its revised public participation plan. The new comment period will last through March 29 and there will be at least one public meeting scheduled in each of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
The latest public participation plan draft can be found at the transportation section of NIRPC’s website at www.nirpc.org and is available in other formats by contacting NIRPC Planning Secretary Mary Thorne at 219-763-6060, ext. 131 or email@example.com.