GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana, region need new Illiana Expressway

2013-11-26T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana, region need new Illiana ExpresswayBy Don Parker nwitimes.com
November 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Recently, the Lowell Town Council vote to remove me as its Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission representative because of my stand on the proposed Illiana Tollway. The Illiana has stirred much discussion and disagreement between all parties involved.

As recent commentary by Investigative Editor Marc Chase and Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross demonstrate, there are varying opinions on the benefits of the Illiana.

It is known that new road construction brings well-paying jobs. Over the past several years Northwest Indiana has been fortunate to have the BP Refinery performing upgrades and maintenance work, keeping many of our workers employed. But the BP work is winding down, and there are no big projects on the horizon.

Additionally, we have known for years that this area needs more east-west roadways, and the Illiana has been discussed as a primary solution for decades. Now those discussions are turning into actions — actions which will bring good jobs and lasting development to south Lake County.

Indeed, at the recent Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning hearing, many Illinois representatives expressed concerns that this project would bring new jobs from Chicago and land them in Northwest Indiana.

Unfortunately, the route will displace some property owners, as any project does. But more unfortunate is that some public officials will not even discuss the potential growth and opportunities that will come with this project.

Instead of taking action to work with the Indiana Department of Transportation to ensure Indiana benefits from this project and not just Illinois, officials continue to be defiant. This process is too far along and has too much support to stop at this point.

Residents should look at their state and local representatives and ask where they were over five years ago when this was being discussed.

Instead of considering what NIRPC is supposed to represent and promote, some people are looking to NIRPC to act as their representative and vote this project down. That is not the role of NIRPC.

The experts have said the Illiana will create short- and long-term jobs. It will spark new development and ease traffic.

Lowell needs more development and a larger tax base, issues which fall under NIRPC’s responsibilities and which it should consider. By working with INDOT right now, we could better help and serve all of our residents during the construction phase. We should be working with INDOT to address additional funding for the Illiana.

We should be discussing sound barriers, greenways and local infrastructures needs. We should be discussing gas stops to ensure tax revenue is generated in Indiana from this roadway and not just in Illinois.

The construction of the Illiana is long overdue. While I do not agree with the chosen route, I do agree it is needed.

While I understand the concerns of those impacted by the route, I feel we should be taking steps to ensure the rest of Lake County residents are protected and this route does not become a driveway to the Illinois Tollway.

Don Parker is a member of the Lowell Town Council. The opinions are the writer's.

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