Officials taking sides on proposed Illiana Expressway

2013-12-10T19:00:00Z 2014-02-26T17:47:12Z Officials taking sides on proposed Illiana ExpresswayBy Keith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. declared he will vote against the proposed Illiana Expressway when the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission takes its decisive vote on the expressway Thursday.

"I don't think there's any case that can be made that it is consistent with NIRPC's 2040 Plan," McDermott said Tuesday. "I think it will further contribute to sprawl and to disinvestment from the city of Hammond, and that's my responsibility."

The 53-member board votes on the Illiana Expressway at a meeting starting 9 a.m. Thursday in the Sycamore Room at Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road, in Portage.

The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill.

U.S. Rep. Pete Vislosky, D-Merrillville, Tuesday repeated his support Tuesday for the project.

"I support this project because I believe it will enhance economic opportunity and improve travel conditions throughout Northwest Indiana," he said in a statement.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, said Kelly supports the expressway.

After an October vote by an Illinois planning agency approving the road, Kelly said: "Today's vote is a validation of what we in the Southland have been saying all along — that our region has tremendous growth potential and that the Illiana is vital to that growth."

McDermott said he will call for weighted voting Thursday. In weighted voting, each NIRPC member's voting power is proportional to the population of their municipality. No vote of the whole body is needed to implement the weighted voting, it simply takes a motion by one member and a second by another.

McDermott said controversy erupted in regards to weighted voting, with a memo from NIRPC Attorney David Hollenbeck this week stating NIRPC will use 2000 census figures to weight votes.

The 2000 Census figures are being used because that is what NIRPC's enabling legislation mandates, according to the memo. The NIRPC legislation was not amended nor included in any updating of population figures.

"This is one of the most important proposals ever and we will be using 15-year old data to weight the vote," McDermott said. "That's just crazy."

McDermott said Hammond's share of the vote would go up slightly using the 2000 Census rather than 2010 figures. With 2000 figures, Hammond has 11.2 percent of total votes cast; with 2010 figures, the city has 10.5 percent.

But some south Lake County communities would see voting power decrease.

"This doesn't look right," McDermott said. "The perception will be we are playing games."

McDermott said NIRPC should seek an opinion from the Indiana attorney general before moving forward with a vote.

Controversy for Thursday's NIRPC vote could also erupt because, as the agenda stands, public comment will not be allowed until the meeting's end. At last week's vote by NIRPC's Transportation Policy Committee, two hours of public comment took place before the vote.

"I know there will be a lot of people upset about it, that's for sure," Lowell Councilman and NIRPC member Craig Earley said. "They are taking a vote to change people's lives. What good does it do to have public comment after the vote?"

NIRPC Chairman and Crown Point Mayor David Uran determines the agenda order. He pointed out NIRPC held four public comment meetings on the expressway. The agency received hundreds of comments via email, letter and other means that NIRPC members have reviewed.

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