Change is a constant.
Challenge is forever.
Chance is an option.
Northwest Indiana stands on the threshold of positive change. The winds of change are clearly at work as we enter 2014. Many a progressive program is at work here.
The question is will the region meet the obvious challenges or consider easier options and slide into complacency?
Statesman Patrick Henry said, “I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.”
Judging from past experience, Northwest Indiana is apt to see little change toward meeting our challenges.
Too much waffling. Too little positive action.
With this in mind, The Times has adopted its 2014 agenda of issues we believe vital to regional progress. During the year we actively promote change necessary to meet the challenges. We monitor progress. We put a white hot spotlight on areas of difficulty.
Pushing the region to a new level of accomplishment isn’t easy. Many people point with pride to progress that has been made. Privatization of the Gary/Chicago International Airport, commitment to build the Illiana Expressway, funding a new building for Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College, the $4.2 billion investment made by BP in Whiting. There is much to crow about.
Even so, the road to the future contains many issues yet to be met.
Ben Franklin put it this way, “It is easy to see. Hard to foresee.”
So, looking ahead, we offer an agenda we believe will help move the region in the right and positive direction.
Our agenda is short and we believe to the point. The prioritized issues are:
- Build a healthy transportation infrastructure. Expand the South Shore, build the Illiana Expressway, establish a truly regional bus system.
- Guarantee funding for the future of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. It is the best bet to spur regional growth.
- Fully implement the Marquette Plan to protect our valuable Lake Michigan shoreline while attracting appropriate development there.
- Improve the health of region residents by providing easier access to health care.
- Revitalize the urban core.
- Improve education, particularly through establishment of mandated preschool.
- Restructure county government, taking it from the horse and buggy era to the 21st century.
- Improve regional cooperation.
We believe the last of the agenda items will be the most important to achieving the other objectives.
And so, while we bask in the warm light of recent accomplishment, the major issues have yet to be fully addressed.
In closing, keep in mind we all should be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.
For as long as I can recall, thinking and acting regionally has been advocated for Northwest Indiana.
But the record of cooperation isn't so good. Starting in the 1980s, a study by Indiana State University urged Hammond, Gary and East Chicago unite to form one large city of Calumet.
The ink wasn't dry on the report before it was thoroughly denounced and relegated to the stack of such studies.
More recently, fire departments in Munster and Highland considered uniting to save costs and improve service. There is also occasional talk of merging Dyer, Schererville and St. John.
All of these ideas had merit but lacked a dose of political will for them to reach reality.
And so I was pleasantly surprised when chefs from an assortment of Northwest Indiana restaurants joined to stage the recent Meals On Wheels “Dine with the Chefs” event.
Sandra Noe, executive director of Meals on Wheels, came to my table, saying I needed to see the example of regional cooperation taking place in the kitchen of the Avalon Banquet Center. Sure enough, I watched as chefs from 14 restaurants — many competitors — worked side by side to prepare the gourmet meal for those attending the fundraiser.
These chefs deserve a lot of credit for stepping forward and making the regional event a success.
By way of recognition, the chefs are: Mike Zubay, Ameristar; Kristen, Karl and Ana, Abuelo's; Adam Brown, Avalon; Joel Krauklis, Bar Louie; Harry Karahalios, Briar Ridge; Elias Hanne, Hobart Elks; Mark Angeles, Horseshoe; Cheryl Molenda, the Inn at Aberdeen; Elida Abeyta and Beverly Seleb, Ivy Tech; Ken Regan, Radisson; Joe Gaal, Sage; Tony Sanfillippo, Svagati; Tim Merkel, Youche.
There are other examples of cooperation: United Way in Lake and Porter counties; the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, to name two.
But a great deal of cooperation needs to be achieved.
More examples are needed, such as the chefs donating time to support a worthwhile cause without thought of competition.
When tragedy strikes, emergency responders spring into action.
Nowhere was that proven truer than last week with the massive pileup on Interstate 94.
Fire and emergency medical responders came from near and far to help.
This type of response is what makes us feel safer — aware there are those who know what to do in a time of crisis.
Well, by a far smaller scale I, too, found out last week what a relief it is to have emergency responders come to your aid.
I needed to travel from our Munster office to Merrillville. I was told the Borman was a mess and U.S. 30 was like a parking lot.
So, with a clear sky overhead in Munster, I decided to take to the back roads — probably safer. I was wrong.
I soon found myself in a whiteout on Broad Street south of Griffith. Nothing to do but travel slowly and carefully.
What happened next I can hardly recall. It happened so quickly.
My SUV, apparently hitting a bit of piled snow, slid across the icy road and into a deep drainage ditch.
Luckily, I had my seat belt on as the SUV rolled onto its side, coming to rest in water at the bottom of the ditch.
As I sat there, it struck me how quiet it was, but that spell was broken as a passing motorist scaled the ditch to ask if I was injured. I wasn’t.
In what seemed like only a few minutes, the police, firefighters and EMT responders were on the scene.
In a calm, experienced manner they determined the way out for me was through the windshield. And so, lying on a board, my rescuers lifted me over the steering wheel and through the opening that had held the windshield.
As they carried me to the top of the ditch, I couldn't help but think how well the rescuers had accomplished my extrication. It was obvious they were trained and acting from experience.
I am thankful for their help. I, too, now know what it is like to be rescued.
I didn't get their full names, but Steve and Mike and others from the Schererville Fire Department earned my gold seal of approval that day.
They certainly proved when tragedy — big or small — strikes, emergency responders can be counted on to save the day.
To those who came to my rescue, I offer a sincere thank you.
Well, shut my mouth.
Maybe that’s the advice to be given to Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. He has been spouting loud and long in opposition to the regional air show moving from Gary to the Fair Oaks Farm south in Newton County.
His argument is that locally collected tax money should be spent only in Lake County.
So much for his vision for Northwest Indiana. Like some in neighboring Porter County, he has tunnel vision, and it ends at the county line.
Some facts are necessary. The air show was not held in 2012.
Gary, already struggling to meet its financial needs, wisely decided it could no longer afford extra pay for police and emergency services necessary at the show.
Midway Airport’s protective zone precludes the air show from being staged along the lakeshore in Hammond and Whiting.
And it’s not property taxes paid by local residents at issue. The tax is on those who visit here, using hotels and motels.
In spite of all this, McDermott is shooting from the lip and attacking the decision to move the show to Newton County. He argues the local economy will suffer.
His aim is the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, sponsor of the air show.
The fact is that no contract has been signed with Fair Oaks to host the show. But it should be.
Fair Oaks, perhaps the nation’s premier agritourism destination, draws somewhere around half a million visitors each year. They spend millions on gas, lodging and food as they visit the region. A good part of that is in Lake County.
It’s also true that Fair Oaks has sufficient land to host the show. It has the largest single patch of land east of the Mississippi River, some 30,000 plus acres.
It milks more than 30,000 cows per day, sending thousands of gallons of milk on its way to Midwest processors. Its future plans include building a hotel. It recently added pigs as a part of its exhibit
In other words, it hosts visitors to see agribusiness up close. It is especially a good experience for the young.
With the centralized location – not like the Gary show with limited and disjointed access – the show can be more. For instance, a midway with vendors and perhaps rides is likely to be offered.
The possibilities are great. So it is a time to think big, to think regional and stop the noise of unfounded opposition.
Finally, let me say McDermott is a top-notch mayor. He has done much for his city. That is a fact. But he is off base with his criticism of moving the air show.
He likely will charge me and The Times with being biased against him, something he has also proclaimed loudly of late.
Well, shut my mouth. I won’t respond to such a ridiculous charge.
No matter whether it’s the mayor or someone else, we will continue to support this as one region, not a home to isolated counties and municipalities.
Let the air show begin over the wide open spaces in Newton County.
The public comment period for the proposed Illiana Expressway has ended.
The NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) have had their say. The traffic experts have spoken.
The fate of the project rests with the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. To qualify for federal funding, the project must be part of NIRPC’s long-range plan.
And that means there must be a plurality of votes favoring the Illiana among the 53 members of the commission. That vote comes Dec. 12.
It’s those 53 members who are now being targeted. Can they be persuaded for or against?
Those living in or near the path of the expressway argue it isn't needed. Proposed reduction to traffic on northern routes won’t justify building a new road, they argue.
Some north Lake County officials worry it will adversely impact business at truck stops along the Borman Expressway.
But transportation planners argue that traffic, particularly on the Borman and U.S. 30, will be reduced. And the new expressway, they advocate, will bring opportunities for development benefiting the region’s economy.
What to me is missing from this argument is the most compelling reason to build the expressway – safety.
Take a drive on the Borman. Have just one of the thousands of 18-wheelers daily on the Borman follow you within inches. It’s a scary and dangerous experience.
The Illiana will allow a portion of those trucks to bypass the Borman. That will make the Borman a less cluttered and safer route.
That is the argument persuading me to support the Illiana.
Those worried about business at truck stops need to look at the real issues. After all, thousands of “through” semis will still use the Borman as an east-west route. They will still need the truck stops for fueling and feeding.
Safety is the paramount reason to build a new expressway. But it will also allow easier access to Chicago and its western and northwest suburbs for those living in southern parts of the region.
For my money, the time has come and gone for the debate.
The focus should be on the worthiness of a project that will benefit the region for generations.
I assume that like the debate over constructing the Borman in the 1950s and ’60s, time will prove the Illiana’s naysayers wrong.
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