WINFIELD — An overflow crowd of more than 60 people attended a meeting at the town's branch of the Crown Point Library to hear possible solutions to the traffic woes on 109th Avenue on Thursday.
The meeting was called by State Rep. Lisa Beck, D-Hebron, who said traffic has been an issue on 109th for a long time. In fact, her mother warned her not to drive on it 40 years ago.
Beck said the problems involve more than just Winfield, and all the jurisdictions have to work together to find the funds for what is now estimated to be a $28 million fix from the Porter County line all the way to the Broadway intersection in Crown Point.
She said an attempt in the last legislative session to create an investment hub that would allow the various jurisdictions along the road to work together using a food and beverage tax for funding was killed by the state Senate after it was approved by the House. Even if it had passed, Lake County would have had to enact the tax, and it would take a couple of years to reap the financial benefits.
Another funding option is a grant or a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department already told her the area is too wealthy to get a grant, but she is waiting for information on whether a low-interest loan might be available.
To take advantage of the state and federal road funds allocated to the area, the town would have to get the approval of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, which has already made those decisions for funds available for the next four years. The only money NIRPC might have available earlier would come from communities that didn't use the funds they were allocated, but that would take time as well.
To convince NIRPC of the need for improvements based on safety, accident information must be gathered, which Beck said she is trying to do. She said the traffic and accident data also needs to be updated to bolster the case for the need.
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The last option is to give the road back to the state Department of Transportation. Winfield is the only community in the county with no state roads, Councilman Dave Anderson said. However, Anderson said the state is not taking on any new roads, and before the state would agree to take it, it would have to take some other road off its list. Beck said there could be unwanted consequences of turning over control of the road to the state.
Beck said Bill Hanna, head of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which helps fund economic development-related projects, including infrastructure improvements like the South Shore's Westlake Corridor expansion project, has promised to help with 109th.
After hearing all the options, the crowd was pretty clear about the one they favored: the one that required someone other than Winfield residents to pay for it.
One resident said the state and federal governments created the majority of the problems when they put in the interchange at Interstate 65. Therefore, they should pay to fix it. Others suggested making it a toll road where only non-residents would pay or putting a moratorium on building new homes. Councilman Tim Clayton warned the town depends a great deal on the income from building permits and other fees from new construction, and a moratorium could create more problems than it solved.
Rich Sassman, a Realtor with Century 21, created a Facebook page for people to tell about accidents on 109th and has received more than 400 posts. He said property values have grown 8% in the past year and are expected to do the same in 2020. But revenue from that growth that could be used to help solve the problems lags behind the increased values by a year or two.
Anderson said if everyone in town wrote a check to pay for the road improvements now, it would still be a couple of years before the work began. In the meantime, the town needs to find ways of moving the traffic to other roads.
Beck said she plans to hold more meetings with residents because she wants them to get involved. One resident called the meeting "a step in the right direction" by added he was hoping to see something more positive.