Rich James has been writing about state and
local government and politics for more than
30 years. email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The
opinions are the writer’s.
Except for a couple years in the Army and being away at college before that, I’ve been a Region Rat for a long, long time.
And, being in the news business, I have had little choice other than to be an observer.
I’ve witnessed a lot. And I have remembered most of it.
And now I am a bit befuddled as to what some folks are saying about the future of the region as it pertains to the proposed Illiana Expressway.
Four environmental groups, including the Sierra Club Dunelands Group, have come out in opposition to the Illiana in the last week.
That’s not surprising in that environmental groups oppose virtually all changes to the landscape.
Because the Illiana has been talked about for at least three decades and both Indiana and Illinois approved the highway almost two years ago, I had to chuckle at the purported surprise of Stacy Meyers, policy coordinator for the environmental group, Openlands.
She said, and I am not making this up, “This process is going so fast, people are just starting to understand and feel they have a voice.”
Sorry, Stacy, the people have had their chance. And the Illiana would be a key addition to a region highway system that increasingly embraces gridlock.
But the Illiana can’t be built unless the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and its Illinois counterpart give their approval.
The Sierra folks say the Illiana flies in the face of NIRPC’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan.
That plan calls for revitalizing NWI’s urban areas and conserving farmland and natural, open spaces. That makes some sense but must be adaptable to societal changes.
And, while the plan is a lofty goal, it comes some 50 years too late.
I’ve watched people and businesses flee the urban north in droves. I’ve seen the modernization of the steel industry and the elimination of 75 percent of the workforce.
I’ve watched the opening of Southlake (now Westfield) Mall which helped spawn countless adjacent retail strip malls.
And all the while there has been little effort to revitalize the urban north other than Rep. Pete Visclosky’s plan to take back the lakefront.
And worst of all, I’ve watched countless subdivisions – large and small – spring up on cart paths across middle and south Lake and Porter counties.
And all those subdivisions are on farmland sold for a pretty penny. That’s not a criticism of farmers, just a fact.
But the broad-brush concept of revitalizing urban areas and preserving farmland shouldn’t preclude transportation and other advancements.
The Illiana is reality. Plans are nice, but shouldn’t be sacrosanct.
And building the Illiana doesn’t mean the urban north can’t be revitalized or the lion’s share of farm country kept in corn and soybeans.