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South Shore projects ride toward inclusion in regional plan
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South Shore projects ride toward inclusion in regional plan

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PORTAGE — The South Shore Line's major expansion projects are the subject of a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission public comment period that will culminate with votes on adding the projects to the Region's official transportation planning documents.

The West Lake Corridor and Double Track NWI projects need to be included in the 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan to be eligible for federal funding.

The public comment period includes six open houses throughout the three-county area, as well as the opportunity to comment via email, telephone and mail. 

In addition to the South Shore projects, the amendment to NIRPC's 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan would move the completion date of the dormant Illiana Expressway project from 2020 to 2040.

NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Mitch Barloga said the Illiana change is a result of the Illinois Department of Transportation's suspension of major Illiana work in the midst of an ongoing state budget stalemate.

"This is in concert with IDOT," Barloga said at a Tuesday meeting of NIRPC's Technical Planning Committee. "We're just keeping coordinated on that project."

Other proposed modifications to the Comprehensive Regional Plan include the addition of infrastructure at the Interstate 80/94 westbound interchange with Interstate 65, and the elimination of plans to add third lanes to I-65 between Ind. 2 and Ind. 10.

The 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan was adopted in 2011 and updated in 2015. The amendment available for public comment is scheduled to be considered for action at the May 9 meeting of NIRPC's Technical Planning Committee and at the May 18 meeting of the full commission.

The public comment period and votes scheduled for May also include NIRPC's 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, a catalog of regional transportation projects planned for the four-year period.

In addition to commenting at the open houses, public comments on the Comprehensive Regional Plan amendment and the Transportation Improvement Program may be submitted until April 13 by email to comments@nirpc.org; by telephone to 219-763-6060, Ext. 160; and by mail to NIRPC, 6100 Southport Road, Portage, IN 46368.

The new TIP will replace the 2016-2019 TIP, which included some work on the South Shore projects. But with the full inclusion of the South Shore projects, the 2018-2021 TIP will far exceed previous plans in financial terms.

"This is the biggest one I've seen in my 25 years here," Transportation Projects Manager Gary Evers said. He said it would total about $1.6 billion, with three quarters of that going to public transportation.

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