LOWELL | Local emergency responders may have been told there will be no money coming to cover their costs to serve the planned Illiana Expressway, but that's not stopping them from pursuing the issue.
Representatives from Tri-Creek Emergency Medical Services, local volunteer fire departments, law enforcement representatives and officials met Thursday with Illiana planners.
Jim Earl, of the Indiana Department of Transportation, came away with points to make to state officials on revenue sources for local providers.
"We're going to be taxing an already overtaxed system," Lake Dalecarlia Fire Chief Ryan Kennedy said. "We always said we'll make due with what we have, but we can't do that anymore."
Charlie Scott, co-director of Tri-Creek EMS, said it's simple.
"We don't have an ambulance to send there right now," Scott said.
Lowell-area EMS and volunteer fire departments have been strapped for cash the past few years. They unsuccessfully sought to establish a fire territory to create a tax that would help fund services.
Many said it should be stipulated that emergency responder costs be funded using revenue from tolls collected along the expressway.
Earl said he will take that idea with him downstate.
In the meantime, Earl said he has contacted the Department of Homeland Security to learn if that agency could help with grants to fund manpower and equipment needs.
Cedar Lake Fire Chief Todd Wilkening said those in authority need to appreciate what will eventually be a recurring scenario:
After 3 inches of snowfall, Lowell EMS and firefighters are tied up on Interstate 65 with a multivehicle accident with injuries. An accident on the Illiana goes to Cedar Lake since Lowell responders are busy.
"We're very, very rural. We don't sit on top of each other. We're 6 miles away in a snowstorm," he said. The "powers that be" need to grasp that, he said.
Lowell Town Council Vice President Craig Earley, D-1st, said he understands the state says locals must provide service to the roadway and try to collect from insurance companies.
"Is there a local liability if we can't do it?" he asked.
Earl did not know, but said he would find the answer.
Kennedy said Illinois established a fire district of sorts at the intersection of Interstate 55 and Interstate 294. He suggested that could be investigated.
Earl said it would be worth a look, but cautioned Illinois and Indiana are operating separately. The bistate agreement has not yet been finalized, and what one state does is not required of the other.
"We will keep this on the front burner. We have a few months to figure this out," Earl said.
Richard Rampone, of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm handling the current phase in the planning, said he will keep local leaders regularly updated on the project.
Earl and Rampone updated the group on design changes. While Harrison, Marshall and Sheffield Avenues will be closed, frontage roads for Harrison and Sheffield will be installed.
Lake County Councilman Eldon Strong said planners need to look to the future.
"It would be a cost savings now to keep the roads open. The area is going to develop," he said.
At local leaders' suggestions, Earl said plans will be changed to allow for Illiana access from Morse Street and Holtz Road.
Dry hydrants that draw water from the ponds along the roadway will be installed at multiple locations, Earl said.