A key committee of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission voted 8-3 with eight abstentions Tuesday to approve a report on the Illiana Expressway, allowing for a crucial vote of the entire organization next month.
The Transportation Policy Committee took the vote on a motion to approve a staff report on how the Illiana Expressway and the Interstate 65 widening will effect congestion on area roadways.
That report basically found building the proposed 47-mile Illiana Expressway from I-65 to Interstate 55 in Illinois will relieve some of the expected future congestion on area roads.
Building the Illiana Expressway would help reduce expected traffic on the Borman Expressway by about 8.6 percent by 2040, according to the the Congestion Management Process report prepared by NIRPC staff.
However, building the expressway would only reduce expected traffic on U.S. 30 by about 0.8 percent. Reduced congestion on U.S. 30 has been one of the big selling points of the road's backers.
According to the report, the biggest gains would come in cutting miles driven by trucks on main local arterials between 25 percent and 34 percent.
Without a vote in favor on Tuesday, the 12-mile Indiana portion of the Illiana Expressway would have been stopped in its tracks. That is because the Transportation Policy Committee must approve a congestion report for any significant expressway project before it can move through the rest of the NIRPC approval process.
“This is a prerequisite to do anything,” said NIRPC transportation planner Gary Evers. “If it fails at that vote, everything else is off the table.”
However, NIRPC attorney David Hollenbeck was tasked with making sure the favorable vote would stand, since with the eight abstentions it did not carry a majority of those voting. He told NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner by phone it was his opinion the vote was valid and would stand, but he would research the matter further.
NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner said after the meeting if the vote did not stand, the issue could be voted on again at the Dec. 3 meeting of the Transportation Policy Committee.
On Dec. 3 the Transportation Policy Committee is scheduled to vote on including the Illiana Expressway and I-65 project in its long- and short-range transportation plans. Then the full NIRPC board votes on Dec. 12 on including the projects in those plans.
Without a vote of the full board in favor of including both projects in the long- and short-range transportation plans, they cannot move forward.
Tuesday's meeting was a long and at times contentious one, with committee chairman Shawn Pettit allowing the public to ask questions during the meeting.
A broad range of people for and against the roadway attended, including local union officials and about a dozen concerned citizens from Lowell. Lawyers from groups suing to stop the Illiana Expressway also were there.
Doug Strayer, the secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Indiana Building Trades Council read a resolution from his council backing the building of the Illiana Expressway.
The resolution stated the expressway will be a critical factor in relieving truck traffic on other roadways as well as generating both short-term and long-term jobs.
South Lake County resident Sandy Linden pointed out a previous study conducted by a consulting firm showed the Illiana Expressway would only reduce expected traffic on the Borman Expressway by about 2.2 percent.
“The road is not in my backyard,” Linden said. “I am against tax money paying for a bad idea and there are thousands of people who agree with me.”