Indiana Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Bob Alderman's support of the Illiana Expressway is spot-on, but make sure the highway's approval record is spotless.
The road needs to be built to relieve congestion on other east-west thoroughfares, including U.S. 30 and the Borman Expressway. Anyone who has fought the congestion on either of those two east-west routes ought to see the wisdom of siphoning truck traffic, especially, onto a new expressway.
Truckers also ought to realize it is better to pay a toll and keep rolling than to be stuck in traffic and see profits go up in smoke.
"If you look at it from a connectivity, community point of view, I think you will see this project has tremendous value for Northwest Indiana," Alderman told the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission last week.
The Illiana Expressway would stretch from Interstate 65 near Cedar Lake to I-55 near Wilmington, Ill. It is part of the outer loop around the Chicago area envisioned by architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham in his Plan of Chicago more than a century ago.
The Illiana offers promise not just for congestion relief but also for air quality improvement, Alderman noted.
Planners for the proposed expressway said recently they estimate motorists would spend about 35,700 fewer hours per year on the road in the region if the Illiana is built.
The new highway has faced challenges from some environmental groups. Their worries include the effect on the Kankakee River basin. Those concerns must be addressed during the final planning and construction stages.
At the same meeting as Alderman's testimony in support of the Illiana Expressway, the commission deferred action on the 2014-17 Transportation Improvement Plan after the disability rights group Everybody Counts pointed out no public hearing on the plan had been held.
That's a major goof, fortunately caught before the commission could vote on the plan.
Federal rules require a 30-day comment period and a public hearing on these four-year transportation plans.
NIRPC must be very careful to follow the rules on this plan. Knowing there is opposition to the Illiana Expressway, the approval process for that new road in particular must proceed without a single mistake.
Legitimate concerns must be addressed, but don't make a misstep that could serve as the undoing of a major transportation improvement for not just Northwest Indiana but also for the entire Chicago area.