Northwest Indiana is at a crossroads for economic development. An opportunity is on the horizon to help spur development in the northern part of Lake County, at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, and create a new sector of jobs.
State and local officials who sit on the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission will vote in December whether to include the Illiana Corridor project into its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.
The Illiana Corridor’s benefits to Northwest Indiana are great. Not only will the highway provide relief to the most congested portions of our existing highway network, it also will create a needed east-west interstate through the region. Add to that the 9,000 construction jobs and 28,000 long-term jobs the Illiana is projected to create, and you have a win for the entire region.
Critics have claimed the Illiana provides no benefit to Hoosiers and that it conflicts with NIRPC’s 2040 Plan. Nothing could be further from the truth. A key mission of the 2040 Plan is to integrate “land use and transportation planning with economic development” to provide a framework for regional growth.
Construction of the Illiana will help divert through trucks away from Lake County’s urban core. That will increase highway capacity for local economic growth. Without this relief, the risk for northern Lake County is that delays resulting from congestion will discourage potential businesses that might otherwise seek to locate in the northern part of the county.
Intermodal terminals are quickly expanding. Lake County has huge potential to benefit from convenient access as a major freight hub. A shift in freight patterns will also provide northern Lake County opportunities along the I-80/94 corridor.
Because of that, the Gary airport and Lake Michigan ports are poised to get in on the ground floor of this economic opportunity. They are ready to provide this intermodal freight access to global markets. These logistically significant assets provide a wide range of industrial companies, logistics operators and local businesses access to new world markets. That in turn helps diversify the region’s economic base.
A key to this opportunity will be access to university degrees and opportunities for new skills and training for local job seekers. With Ivy Tech, Purdue University and Indiana University ready to provide training, businesses will easily be able to tap into the local workforce.
The Illiana is expected to increase Lake County's population by about 5,200 by the year 2040, some of which will be in existing urban areas.
In support of NIRPC’s goal of infill and redevelopment, study estimates show the Illiana will result in an increase of thousands of jobs that would be accessible within 30 minutes from the study area — jobs that wouldn’t be there if the Illiana is not constructed.
NIRPC and local communities need to work together to coordinate development so it is supported by the necessary roads, sewers and other infrastructure. As an infrastructure project, the Illiana supports the goals, principles and recommendations of the NIRPC 2040 Plan.
Indiana is the Crossroads of America. This project is needed to maintain and improve the global connections that link our region to international trade and information networks. That will help provide economic opportunities and a broad range of jobs.