The private operator of the Indiana Toll Road and government officials will meet next week to decide if they want to replace or eliminate the only direct connection between the westbound Toll Road and the Borman Expressway.
An Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. staffer and an engineering consultant on Tuesday briefed the Transportation Policy Committee of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on the results of a one-year study of the connection, which is at milepost 21 in Lake Station.
"This is a regionally significant project and all parties need to be involved," said David Henkel, a project manager with engineering firm RW Armstrong, which performed the one-year study of the interchange.
The study looked at three alternatives for dealing with the structurally deficient ramp from the westbound Toll Road to the Borman, as well as other ramps at the interchange. The westbound Toll Road to Borman ramp was closed for a brief time in November 2010 after a crash there and then again for two months in 2011.
The first alternative studied was the elimination of the westbound Toll Road to Borman ramp. The second alternative examined would replace that ramp as well as the entrance ramp to the westbound Toll Road lanes with a cloverleaf ramp. The third alternative would be to shutdown all the ramps, essentially severing every direct connection between the two roads.
That third alternative essentially has been "flushed out" of consideration, according to Henkel. That is because it would increase congestion to unacceptable levels at Interstate 65 as well as at the nearby Ripley Street interchange.
A fourth alternative that would entail rehabilitating the existing ramps also will be discussed at next week's meeting with Indiana Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration officials, said Ryan Olsen, infrastructure program manager for Indiana Toll Road Concession Co.
The first three alternatives will all require the production of a federally mandated Interchange Modification Report, which would include a public hearing later this year. The fourth alternative, simply rehabilitating existing ramps, would not require the report or a public hearing.
The goal is to come up with a solution as soon as possible, Henkel said. Construction on any of the alternatives laid out in the study could begin as soon as 2014.
NIRPC board members had numerous concerns with the options under consideration.
NIRPC Chairman Geof Benson wanted to know where trucks that currently get off the Toll Road to refuel at the Flying J and other truck stops just off the Borman would go for fuel if the westbound Toll Road-to-Borman ramp were eliminated. He also asked if the study had looked at moving the entire interchange to the east, where the Toll Road and Borman cross but don't connect.
Board member Shawn Pettit wanted to know if the study had looked at moving the entire intersection westward to Ripley Street. He also asked about accident rates on the ramps.
Henkel responded that the study looked at each alternative's impact on six nearby interchanges, but it did not examine actually moving the milepost 21 interchange eastward or westward. He said milepost 21 ramps have a higher rate of accidents than the state average.
David Wright, a planning and marketing director with Gary Public Transportation Corp., pointed out the closing of the milepost 21 westbound Toll Road ramp could cut off traffic to the Miller Beach area. That's because it would shift the first access point to Gary for Toll Road motorists coming from the east to the Interstate 65 exit near downtown.