LOWELL | It doesn't matter where the Illiana Expressway would go. There is no need for it, according to a group that gathered Monday night.
Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong, R-7th, West Creek Township Trustee Harold Mussman and other local officials urged the crowd of more than 100 people to stay on point with that simple message.
"First is the need factor. What they're asking us to give up ... is not enough to justify a highway. ... We want the millions of dollars kept in Indiana," Niemeyer said.
He said those millions could be spent on provisions in Senate Bill 585, which he said is enjoying "all kinds of bipartisan support," would put governor-appointees on the board of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority, require a study of a second Lake Michigan port and mandate a study on the need for a trauma one center in northwest Indiana.
Capitalizing on the recent Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report, which found the Illiana's planners sharply underestimated its costs and overestimated its benefits, the meeting's leaders urged the crowd to contact all members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission with the message. Approval from NIRPC is necessary for the expressway project to happen.
"What's good for Indiana? If you can't see that, then as elected officials, you can't support this," Niemeyer said.
"Don't write NIRPC complaining about losing your house," Strong said. "Write them about keeping the money in Indiana," he said.
Pat Mussman of the West Creek trustee's office said she will send the CMAP report to all who provide their email address. She urged them to write their legislators and all NIRPC members.
Resident Bill Hathaway said the CMAP report states that $1.5 billion additional money would be needed for Illinois to upgrade infrastructure.
"Indiana doesn't want to know the numbers in Indiana," he said, because they would "significantly inflate the price."
Hathaway asked Niemeyer whether he could introduce a bill to require no decision be made on Illiana until the SB 585 studies are done.
While possible, Niemeyer said it would be difficult.
George Malis, of the Dunelands Group of the Hoosier Chapter of Sierra Club, said NIRPC received a resolution supporting the "no build" option in the Illiana process about three weeks ago from his group.
The resolution points to NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, which "prioritizes revitalizing the region's urban communities" as well as "places a high priority on conserving productive, prime farmland and green infrastructure."
Niemeyer called the expressway, "an escape route for Illinois." It's not a done deal, he said.