Heightened concerns about the proposed Illiana Expressway drew more than 750 people to Lowell Middle School on Wednesday, just two weeks after the release of a draft study of the 50-mile road.
That Draft Environmental Impact Study detailed two additional routes for the planned toll road due to public demand for alternates, but the addition of the routes seemed to do little to quell concern.
"Everybody is basically against it period," said longtime opponent Michael Jordan. "Right now you have a divide-and-conquer strategy to pit neighbor against neighbor."
Groups opposing the Illiana Expressway handed out yard signs and buttons opposing it before people could even sign into the 5 p.m. hearing on the draft study put on by the departments of transportation for Indiana and Illinois.
But not everyone at the hearing was opposed to the project. Several speakers at a 6 p.m. public comment period spoke in favor.
Northwest Indiana Forum President Mark Maassel was one of the first to speak and said his organization supports the project because of the long-term increase of 25,000 jobs forecast if the road gets built.
"We absolutely need to increase jobs in our region," Maassel said. "No build is not an option."
The so-called "no build" option is one the departments of transportation are required to study. The study already forecast greatly increased congestion on local roads if the expressway is not built.
The two state transportation departments recently delivered their first cost estimate for the project, pegging it between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion, said Greg Kicinski, director of program management for the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Residents on Wednesday also were concerned about when and how homes, businesses and farms might be bought or ultimately taken once a final expressway route is determined.
Martin Kroll said the new proposed southerly route would come right through his farm on south Ind. 2.
"It's not a straight run,” he said. “It's the 'crookedest' run, and it's the longest, and it's the farthest away from traffic,” he said.
Kicinski said both departments of transportation may start talking to small groups of landowners later this year about how they can sell their land to make way for the project. But actual purchases probably would not take place until 2013. Condemnations, if necessary, would not be until 2014.
Two of the proposed routes in the draft study start at Interstate 65 just south of 153rd Avenue and run approximately due west between Lowell and Cedar Lake. At the state line, one of the routes continues directly west to Interstate 55. Just last month, consultants again identified that route as their recommended route.
The other route starting at the same point on I-65 diverges from the first one at the state line and cuts north of the proposed airport site at Peotone, rather than south of it. That alternative would join I-55 farther to the north, near Channahon, Ill.
A third proposed route starts farther south on I-65, just south of 205th Avenue. It heads northwest and joins up with the first proposed route just past the state line and the two then follow the same route due west to Wilmington, Ill.
The most southerly route was added for study at the behest of Lowell officials.
With all three alternatives, expressway interchanges in Indiana would be at I-65, Ind. 55 and U.S. 41. In Illinois interchanges would be at Ill. 1, Interstate 57, U.S. 45, Ill. 53 and Ill. 55 and possibly U.S. 52.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available at www.illianacorridor.org. Hard copies also are available at local libraries within the study area and at state department of transportation offices.