NIRPC transportation plan hits another roadblock

2013-08-29T18:00:00Z 2013-08-30T13:16:03Z NIRPC transportation plan hits another roadblockBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission ran into another potential delay Thursday on its four-year, $724.8 million transportation plan, while an earlier delay already is taking its toll on state road and local transit projects.

NIRPC Transportation Projects Manager Gary Evers told commissioners at their regular meeting the agency failed to give a 30-day notice of public meetings on the plan as required by a 2006 consent decree.

"INDOT projects are being harmed by our delay as we speak," Evers told a room packed with commissioners and the public. "To INDOT, there is definite harm in this delay."

If implementation of the plan has to be delayed again, it could affect the timing of NIRPC votes on the Illiana Expressway and Interstate 65 expansion. NIRPC had hoped to have those major projects ready for a vote in October.

In July, NIRPC had to call off a vote on the same four-year transportation plan when the disability rights group Everybody Counts pointed out no public meetings had taken place as required by federal regulations. That set the plan approval back one month as the meetings took place.

On Thursday, the commission approved the plan on a voice vote with some dissenting votes, but it was contingent on review by the agency's lawyer. If attorney David Hollenbeck says the plan was duly approved, it should free up the Indiana Department of Transportation and local transit agencies to proceed with projects.

But if Hollenbeck finds the lack of a 30-day notice of meetings was a "fatal flaw," it would take at least two more months to bring the plan up for a vote again.

The 2006 federal court consent decree that contains the 30-day notice provision came about because of a lawsuit brought by the disability-rights group Everybody Counts over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Members of Everybody Counts and other disability-rights groups came to Thursday's meeting with protest signs with messages like "Equal Rides" and "We are the real stakeholders."

Everybody Counts has been negotiating and working with an ad-hoc NIRPC committee to create a new public participation plan for the commission. A new draft plan — some are hoping will be the final plan — was delivered to the NIRPC chairman this week.

But the group is having its biggest effect right now on the agency's four-year transportation plan. Roy Dominguez, a former Lake County Sheriff and an Everybody Counts board member, said the group will review any decision Hollenbeck makes on the lack of the 30-day notice.

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