MARC CHASE: Illiana a Northwest Passage? Not in my backyard

2013-11-14T00:00:00Z 2013-11-14T09:15:06Z MARC CHASE: Illiana a Northwest Passage? Not in my backyardMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
November 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Certain elements of our society, usually "progressive leaders," dub some naysayers to particular government projects NIMBYs.

For those not up on their alphabet soup, it's an acronym for "Not In My Back Yard." Movers and shakers in policy circles love to slam the heck out of NIMBYs for being shortsighted, selfish and uneducated enemies of progress.

But take a close look at the haters of the NIMBYs, and I'll bet you'll find the project they're pushing doesn't go through their own backyards. It goes through somebody else's.

We've been seeing it for decades in the region's grand quest for an Illiana Expressway.

From the way supporters of this would-be new major south Lake County interstate speak of the plan, one would think it akin to the elusive Northwest Passage. You know, the waterway long sought by early explorers to link the Atlantic and Pacific through North America — the waterway that has been mostly unnavigable because of arctic pack ice and, more recently, international right-of-way disputes.

Sound familiar?

I've yet to see evidence of overwhelming merit the Illiana, proposed as a toll road, would bring to our region.

In fact, the only thing the proposed Illiana holds in common with the ancient notions of uncharted spice routes and sea-to-shining-sea waterways are their elusive paths to reality.

I've been hearing about this proposed roadway for the decade I've lived in Northwest Indiana, and I'm assured by older, grayer colleagues its discussions far exceed my time here.

I realize plenty of otherwise brilliant transportation planners believe in the merits of the expressway, which would connect Interstate 55 in Illinois and Interstate 65 in Indiana.

Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn — political oil and water, if I've ever seen it — both think it's a great idea, too.

But they haven't made their case to me — and certainly not to a number of Lowell-area and south suburban residents who would literally have the new expressway running through their backyards.

The Illiana would run considerably farther south than the region's established industrial and transportation corridors, in my view making it impractical.

If the prospects of a future third regional airport in Peotone, Ill., weren't so laughable, I might argue — as other Hoosier Illiana opponents have done — that an Illiana Expressway would help make that project a reality, flying in the face of Northwest Indiana's personal interest in seeing the Gary airport achieve such status.

But the proposed Peotone airport is still a series of farm fields, and I don't see that changing anytime soon — if ever.

In the end, neither my protests nor those of the Lowell-area residents will likely matter. A major Illinois transportation planning agency already has added the Illiana to its long-term plan. And it would seem the deck is stacked for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to do the same.

That is, unless NIRPC leaders listen to some of their south county constituents.

But why should they? After all, the proposed Illiana probably won't run through their backyards.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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