A key committee of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on Tuesday gave a green light to the Illiana Expressway, voting to recommend including the 47-mile expressway in regional transportation plans.
The vote was 18 in favor to 8 against, with one abstention at the NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee meeting at Woodland Park in Portage.
The vote was a key one in the run-up to a vote of the full NIRPC board Dec. 12, which will either allow planning and approvals for the Illiana Expressway to go forward or stop it in its tracks.
More than two hours of public comment preceded the vote. More than two dozen people stepped to a microphone in front of the committee members to deliver passionate pitches for and against the expressway.
Residents of the rural area where the expressway would be built and a number of south Lake County political leaders spoke against the expressway. Labor union leaders, business groups and a few individual residents spoke up for the project.
Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub was one of the first to offer comments, reading from a resolution he and Commissioner Roosevelt Allen plan to introduce opposing the Illiana Expressway.
Scheub said the most pressing need for the region's young people is jobs and the Illiana Expressway will not provide them for his constituents.
"There is nothing in this for Indiana," Scheub said. "It's all about Illinois."
Kay Nelson, director of environmental affairs for the Northwest Indiana Forum, said just the opposite, asserting the Illiana Expressway will be a jobs engine for Northwest Indiana.
"Improving travel times will result in lower transportation costs for existing industries and businesses," Nelson said.
Each side applauded for comments that bolstered their case.
But the room quieted noticeably when 88-year-old farmer Jean Hulsey took to the microphone and told how the four-lane highway will impact the farm she has worked with her family for more than 50 years. Then she took aim square at some on the committee.
“I've sat here and watched some of you people today writing (texting), falling asleep, but believe me, this road is very important to us where they are going right through our heart, and through our land,” Hulsey said.
The Transportation Policy Committee first voted Tuesday on a motion to add the Illiana Expressway and the I-65 widening project to its long-range 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan. It then voted by the same 18 to 8 tally to add it to its short-range 2014-17 Transportation Improvement Plan.
The Transportation Policy Committee's vote Tuesday will be forwarded as a recommendation to the full NIRPC board for its consideration Dec. 12. That board is free to vote as it wants.
The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 in Indiana, with an interchange just south of the 153rd Street overpass, to Interstate 55 in Illinois, with an interchange where the Washington Street interchange is now.