As the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission considers the proposed Illiana Expressway on Thursday, remember they are planners. They must look to the future, not just what's needed now.
There is considerable concern about how building the new interstate highway would affect lives today. Many of those concerns have already been addressed by the Illiana planners.
Building the highway means running it through farmland and, in some cases, near people's homes. That's unavoidable. But look at other major roads in the area.
The Borman Expressway is so congested it's not uncommon for a passenger car to be boxed in by semis. That road can't be expanded. And traffic to and from Chicago will only continue to build.
U.S. 30, Ind. 10 and other east-west roads are becoming congested with traffic, too. That's why the Illiana Expressway, by whatever name, was envisioned long ago.
Daniel Burnham envisioned this south suburban expressway in his famous 1909 Plan of Chicago. The road has been discussed earnestly in the past few decades. And now its time has come.
There are three main reasons to build the road.
The first is safety. The more traffic a road carries, the less margin for error when a driver is too tired, too distracted, too inexperienced or too impaired to stay in his or her lane.
Simply put, too much traffic can make a road unsafe. Safety and congestion relief, the second reason for building the Illiana, are closely connected.
Alternate routes for trucks, which the Illiana Expressway would provide, are essential needs for both reasons.
The Illiana Expressway would siphon traffic away from the Interstate 65-Borman Expressway bottleneck, connecting I-65 north of Lowell with I-55 near Wilmington, Ill. It's a smart idea.
In Northwest Indiana, transportation is our bread and butter. Because we are at the very southern tip of Lake Michigan, this region is a major transportation corridor. When Indiana calls itself the crossroads of America, it should look to Northwest Indiana. This is the real crossroads.
And maintaining that crossroads means jobs.
Building the Illiana will create thousands of construction jobs, of course, but in the end it will pave the way for additional full-time jobs in the southern end of the region and, by relieving congestion, perhaps in the north end as well. Creating jobs is the third reason to build the new highway.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is using the Pied Piper analogy to promote the extension of South Shore commuter rail service along the West Lake Corridor. Northwest Indiana's children have been lured away by the scarcity of jobs here and by poor access to jobs in Chicago.
Well, the Illiana would improve access to jobs elsewhere in the Chicago metropolitan area.
There is much to gain by building the Illiana Expressway. It is a project whose need was projected long ago. It's a project whose time has come.
A half century ago, our predecessors gave us a solid interstate highway network. We must build on that legacy.
NIRPC should vote Thursday to include the Illiana in its 2040 plan for the region.