Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission members are hearing plenty about the Illiana Expressway and political jockeying has begun prior to a decisive Dec. 12 vote.
About 40 people turned out at the third NIRPC public comment meeting on the expressway Wednesday afternoon in Portage, with at least four commissioners and some members of NIRPC committees getting an earful.
"We want them to see that there are people that still have an opinion and are still against it and we are still standing," said Sandy Linden, of Lowell.
Linden expressed disappointment more of NIRPC's 52 voting board members have not attended the public comment meetings.
Not everyone at NIRPC headquarters Wednesday was against the expressway. Bob Allen, of Hobart, said it will have a downside for some people but it will benefit many more.
"The biggest single benefit is it will expedite people who want to go to I-55 or I-57 without having to go through Northwest Indiana on I-80/94, which is one of the most congested roads in the country," Allen said.
NIRPC board member and former Chairman Geof Benson said people even give him their opinions on the expressway at social events.
So far, most of the comments are running against building the expressway, Benson said. But he said commissioners will be voting on the more narrow question of whether it conforms to NIRPC's award-winning 2040 Regional Plan.
The expressway can only win necessary federal approval if the NIRPC board votes to include it in the plan.
The 2040 Regional Plan's lead goals are rejuvenating northern urban centers and creating livable communities throughout the region.
"It's not whether we like it or not," Benson said of the proposed 47-mile expressway. "It's whether it fits with the 2040 plan we adopted."
Lowell Councilman Craig Earley was one of those listening closely to the public Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Lowell Town Council voted to remove Town Councilman Donald Parker as the town's NIRPC representative.
Parker had indicated he would abstain from voting Dec. 12 at NIRPC, Earley said. Other council members earlier this year voted to oppose the expressway. They want their representative to reflect that vote Dec. 12, Earley said.
"The biggest concern we have is we are struggling now and my understanding is we will be required to provide services for this expressway and that will be on the back of my taxpayers," Earley said.