by Ken Davidson
In perhaps one of the most contentious public meetings of the year, a room full of people who face losing their farms and family homes squared off with union members looking for temporary jobs. Union members cheered as NIRPC voted to approve the Illiana Toll Road while farmers cried. Perhaps the best comment was from a Lowell resident who said “move the road closer to Cedar Lake and Crown Point since they want it so bad.” That comment clearly points out the irony of communities who have nothing to lose weighing in on the fate of people’s homes in rural south county Indiana.
Christine Cid stood up to the machine once again and voted against the Illiana. You will recall that Cid was the lone democrat on the County Council standing against the income tax. This time Cid was joined by County Chair Thomas McDermott. McDermott, acting as Mayor of Hammond, clearly stated that communities along the 80/94 corridor may be harmed by the southern corridor. Thus, the question as to why Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson decided to support the controversial plan. Freeman-Wilson would appear to have the most to lose with the construction of the tollway as she has pinned Gary’s revitalization hopes to the plan to be a transportation hub. The Illiana Toll Road is expected to be a catalyst for the proposed Peotone Airport as well as a truck route to avoid congestion. The primary economic growth Gary has seen in recent years has been along the 80/94 corridor. In the event the Illiana is successful in removing even 20% of the truck traffic from the area, that could be a large loss in jobs and tax revenue for Gary.
The real story here is Governor Mike Pence. Pence chimed in today praising the Board for passing the plan. Pence would do well to remember his base if he plans to run for re-election. It seems that he was outmaneuvered politically during this entire process. Maybe we will see a Governor McDermott after all.