A few years ago, hundreds of region residents, business people, and leaders, came together on several occasions to help create the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.
The 2040 Plan was developed to create a vision for how we want the region to be developed in 2040. It even won the American Planning Association’s Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan for 2013.
The Illiana Expressway was left out of the plan because about 75 percent of participants want something better. We see investing in and improving the urban core communities in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, where most of us already live, as more important than building a new highway further south.
The Illiana is a reaction to a problem that has been caused by 50 years of short-sighted growth around the region.
When creating the 2040 Plan, we thought about the future and agreed that there are better ways to help us get around faster and put folks to work close to home.
We questioned the need to build a highway through the cozy communities to the south. The Illiana would alter the already productive rural areas of our south county towns. It would be a self-fulfilling prophesy, accelerating population growth south of U.S. 30. Big roads bring big sprawl.
In addition, merely following growth projections limits our shared vision. Since we thought about what we would like to see for the region in 2040, we can also look backward from 2040 to the present to build in ways that support the plan.
Money spent fixing up neglected neighborhoods in established communities will make those places more attractive for development. So far, just studying the Illiana has cost more than $40 million! Our cities and towns could have used those millions to improve roads, water lines and storm sewers -- jobs we really do need done now.
So let’s think about projects that would keep traffic moving on our main roads. Build some lane separations, or overpasses, on Indianapolis Boulevard and U.S. 30 and elsewhere. Install adaptive traffic management systems, called "smart roads," on Broadway, Calumet, Indianapolis, Lincolnway, Ridge Road and U.S. 30 so we’ll see a string of green lights on the way home from work. Expand the South Shore to Valparaiso. Why not build express lanes for freight traffic right over the center of Interstate 80/94 if that’s what we need?
Projects like these would show innovation, provide jobs, keep us moving and strengthen the core of our region.
The Illiana has been a bad idea for a long time. The award-winning 2040 Plan is just fine without it.