NIRPC public participation plan still creating sparks

2013-06-11T12:00:00Z 2013-06-12T00:00:12Z NIRPC public participation plan still creating sparksBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE │ The chairman of a key NIRPC committee on Tuesday blasted any move to start over again on formulating a public participation plan three weeks after the full NIRPC board decided it wanted to hear more from a group opposing it.

"If a group feels they were left out, I'm sorry about that," said Transportation Policy Committee Chairman Shawn Pettit at the comittee's regular meeting at NIRPC headquarters. "But I'm not gonna start from scratch."

Pettit's words came as the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission is still trying to round up members for an ad hoc committee to talk to the disability-rights group Everybody Counts, which has objected to the proposed public participation plan.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson recommended NIRPC go that route at the last full board meeting after people with disabilities showed up to protest, charging NIPRC had been ignoring their concerns.

In the end, the commission resolved to schedule a special meeting devoted specifically to the public participation plan. But it appears they first want the ad hoc committee to discuss the issue with Everybody Counts.

"It's an attempt to meet with Everybody Counts and have a dialogue about their concerns," NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner said after Tuesday's meeting.

When contacted Tuesday, Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres said the proposed public participation plan fails to meet both federal regulations and the stipulations of a 2006 federal consent decree ordering NIRPC to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said a complete revision is needed.

"When Shawn Pettit makes a statement without seeing the evidence we have, that's just disappointing," she said.

In other action at Tuesday's meeting, planners for the Illiana Expressway reported they are looking at a number of ways to reduce congestion on the proposed toll road.

Ron Shimizu, of Parsons Brinckerhoff, told the committee the task force and planners will examine a number of strategies for keeping traffic moving on the expressway.

Strategies that will be considered include encouraging public transit and car pooling, intelligent transportation systems, and managing growth around the new toll road, Shimizu said.

Tuesday's briefing was one of the first steps as NIRPC moves toward approving or rejecting the Illiana Expressway for inclusion in its long-range and short-term transportation plans. Including the project in those plans is a necessary step before it can be built.

The Transporation Policy Committee also recognized soon-to-retire NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Bill Brown for his 30 years of work at the agency. Brown has one of the most highly technical jobs there, performing studies that measure how new transportation projects will affect congestion and pollution in the region.

"Everywhere I go around the state, Bill's praises get sung as one of the best transportation modelers around," Executive Director Warner said.

NIRPC has advertised a job opening for a transportation engineer to replace Brown. The position will pay between $51,710 and $55,847 per year, and applications must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. June 24.

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