Lake County was the land of unfettered traffic in 2012 and will be for the foreseeable future, John Swanson observed recently, prior to his departure as director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
"We have changed from a Borman Expressway at full capacity to free-flowing for the first time in my lifetime," Swanson said.
The Borman's reconstruction, which was supposed to conclude in the summer 2011 after more than $480 millions of dollars in lane expansion and intersection redesigns, extended into last year with the $17 million rebuilding of the Martin Luther King overpass to correct structural deficiencies. It reopened in October.
The $250 million third lane expansion of the Indiana Toll Road section in Lake County also wrapped up early last year.
Swanson said, "A lot of Lake County commuters use those two highways. We've got just under one in four workers who live in Lake County and who works in Illinois and that is a growing trend. They bring their paycheck here to pay taxes, buy groceries and other things in Lake County.
"We also finally have an agreement on Cline Avenue, which originally wasn't going to be rebuilt. Now, a public-private partnership will construct a toll bridge. and it will probably happen next year," he said.
The Cline Avenue Bridge, closed since 2009 for safety reasons, would be rebuilt. It would span the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal between Riley Road and Indiana Harbor Drive in East Chicago at a cost of between $150 million and $250 million.
Swanson said the county air pollution problem has abated because of improved controls in steel and other manufacturing plans and work continued apace on Lake's network of bicycle and walking trails in Hammond, Schererville, Merrillville, Crown Point and Munster.
He said last year was the start of improvements at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
"After far too many years, agreement was reached with the various railways including (Canadian National) to relocate for expansion of the Gary Airport's main runway from 7,000 feet to 8,900 feet.
Swanson said Lake County moved further down the line in the quest for higher speed rail traffic with a $71.5 million grant to improve 17 miles of track between the Illinois-Indiana state line and Porter junction in north Porter County to reduce commuter and freight train conflicts.
He said the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has rebuilt major sections of its overhead power lines, called a catenary, between the state line and Michigan City.
Swanson said this year and the near future remain questionable with the local economy struggling to return to pre-recession levels.
In the long run, NIRPC's recently published 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan, which won the American Planning Association's Burnham Award for its role in advancing the science and art of planning, encourages Lake County leaders to invest in its urban core.
"The future of our region depends in large part on a growth and reinvestment strategy occurring in the older cities of Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. We have three mayors clearly committed and now the 2040 plan provides them with support," Swanson said.