NIRPC committee OKs $724.8 million transportation plan

2013-07-08T13:00:00Z 2013-07-18T09:43:04Z NIRPC committee OKs $724.8 million transportation planBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

A Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee on Tuesday passed a $724.8 million transportation improvement plan for the next four years.

The 2014-17 Transportation Improvement Plan includes an “incredible number” of INDOT bridge projects and could eventually reach $1 billion once more mass transit projects are added, according to NIRPC Transportation Projects Manager Gary Evers.

The plan could grow even larger if NIRPC approves amending the plan later this year to include either the Interstate 65 expansion or the Illiana Expressway.

Evers said NIRPC has not seen a four-year plan for the three counties this large since the days of the Borman Expressway expansion.

The four-year plan must still be approved by the full NIRPC board at its meeting next week. The plan is also still subject to a public comment period running through early August.

Much of the increase in spending is due to an aggressive plan by INDOT to rehabilitate bridges in the three counties, including a number on I-80/94.

"It's just an incredible number of bridges that will be fixed up," Evers said. "And those are not just infrastructure projects but safety projects as well. It shows INDOT is really focused on safety."

In March of next year, bids will be let for 10 bridge projects on I-80/94 between Ind. 49 and Ind. 249, according to INDOT spokesman Jim Pinkerton. Those 10 projects will have a total value of from $10 million to $15 million. There are currently two bridge replacement projects underway at Willowcreek and Beam Street on I-94.

The federal government would pay $502.9 million of the cost of the four-year transportation plan and state and local funds would pay for the remaining $221.9 million.

The plan approved by the NIRPC Transportation Policy Committee on Tuesday only includes mass transit projects for 2014. NIRPC plans to add around $200 million in mass transit projects for the three years after that, Evers said.

The committee also received a report Tuesday on the I-65 lane expansion, which would add a third lane in each direction on the divided highway from U.S. 30 to a point about five miles south of there. The report also detailed how that project and the separate Illiana Expressway project would effect traffic congestion in the region.

The NIRPC committee on Tuesday put off action on a resolution supporting a state subsidy of Hoosier State Amtrak passenger trains, which run four days per week between Chicago and Indianapolis.

In total, 2,439 people got on or off an Amtrak train at the Dyer platform and shelter at 913 Sheffield Ave. in 2011, according to Amtrak's fact sheet for Indiana. In Rensselaer, 2,042 passengers used the station. If the state does not agree to subsidize the route by October, Amtrak will end the service.

Committee members want to know more about where the state money would come from, with some members fearing it could come out of funds normally dedicated to other mass transit services in the state.




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