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Reader Outlines Concerns Over Illiana

17 Dec

Letter to the Gazette:

On December 12, 2013, the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission
(NIRPC) voted to accept the Illiana Toll Road into their 2040 Comprehensive
Regional Plan. By voting the Illiana public/private partnership project into
the regional plan, the NIRPC commissioners are allowing the project to clear
one of the many hurdles in its path. Public comment was not allowed at this
final meeting until after the NIRPC commission members had already voted.
NIRPC Chairman and Crown Point Mayor David Uran stated that three meetings
had been held where public comment was allowed and commission members had
reviewed comments submitted by the public. I have my doubts about how many
of the commission members truly read through the valid arguments against
adding this toll road to the commission’s 2040 plan.
> Besides the environmental impact on the region, which has three major
environmental groups filing lawsuits to stop the Illiana Toll Road, two major
business magazines have had eye-opening columns that explain in great detail
the extreme cost to taxpayers when dealing with privately run toll roads.
Openlands, Sierra Club, and Midewin Heritage Association have taken legal
action to stop the toll road based on the inevitable consequences in areas
such as Des Plaines Conservation Area and Midewin Tallgrass Prarie in
Illinois. Bloomberg News and Crain’s Chicago Business both recently printed
columns exposing the fact that overly-optimistic projections take place in
almost all of these road projects. This has led private road companies to
seek “set” payments from the states instead of accepting any risk that tolls
may not match projections. This is a lose/lose situation for the taxpayer.
You pay the toll and pay the state taxes that also pay the difference of
these exaggerated estimates. This is corporate welfare on steroids!
> Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider let the cat out of the bag in
October of this year when interviewed by Crain’s reporter Greg Hinz. When
people throw around the 28,000 jobs between now and 2043, they are quoting
“job-years”(whatever the heck that means), not total new jobs. The actual
estimate is a possible “940 full-time jobs” created. Forty-seven miles of
road cutting through the most pristine farmland and homesteads, which rely
completely on wells for water, so two governors can create 940 jobs over the
next 30 years. It would be funny if it wasn’t so damn stupid and serious.
> Schneider also completely contradicted Indiana Rep. Ed Soliday’s claim at the
NIRPC meeting that a future Peotone Airport is playing no role in pushing
this project. According to Schneider, traffic projections for Illiana done
by IDOT assumed the Peotone Airport will eventually be built. I would have
told Ed that, but public comment was not allowed.
> At the meeting on the 12th of December, which was conveniently held on a
Thursday at 9:00AM in Portage, Indiana, INDOT Northwest Indiana Chief Bob
Alderman gave an impassioned, nearly 15-minute, speech about how the Illiana
Toll Road will make the Borman and I-65 safer for travel. Really, Mr.
Alderman? You truly believe widening I-65 between U.S. 231 and Route 30 will
make things safe when the toll road will be well south of U.S. 231? You
believe diverting traffic from U.S. 30 and the Borman between 2-percent and
8-percent over the next 30 years is going to make the Borman safe?
> I drove from Hammond to the Portage NIRPC meeting on the Borman in light
traffic and still had to drive ultra-defensively because people were driving
25-miles over the speed limit. How will building a toll road make people on
the Borman drive in a safe manner? Why not widen I-65 up to and south of the
toll road? Unlike what some are reporting in the news, the “widening” of
I-65 is NOT part of the Illiana Toll Road project. It is only being approved
at the same time.
> There is so much misinformation being thrown around in support of this toll
road that it is very hard to decipher truth from fiction at this time. But
what is for certain is that we have the governor of one of the most fiscally
sound state governments in the United States making a deal with one of the
most mismanaged states in the Union. Two major business magazines have
labeled this road a bad investment for Hoosiers. Our water will be
threatened by construction, possible hazardous waste trucking spills, and
distance from Lake Michigan and access to fresh water.
> The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) transportation research group’s
(TRIP) most recent study says that 11% of Indiana bridges are structurally
deficient and 22.5% of our roads are in poor condition. Between Illinois and
Indiana, well more than 100-million dollars has been spent just studying the
feasibility of the Illiana Toll Road. That money could have been better
spent fixing our current roads and bridges instead of creating temporary jobs
to build a road 22-miles south of the Borman.
> If I weren’t 100-percent convinced that the Illiana Toll Road will fail to
provide the estimated tolls or meaningful, permanent jobs, I wouldn’t be so
determined to stop this project. If I were convinced that building this road
would make the Borman, Route 30, or any other road around here safer, I would
be in favor of it. I don’t believe any of that. But don’t listen to me.
Look up the information for yourself. Study the facts about our watershed,
private toll roads, look up comments from Illinois Transportation Secretary
Ann Schneider and others who are not so adamant supporters of this project.
Is the purpose of a toll road to create permanent jobs?
>
Dan Blankenship, Lowell

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NIRPC Passes Illiana, Lowell Residents Outraged, Union Members Cheer

12 Dec

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.

Voice Your Opinion on Illiana Toll Road

4 Dec

From Dan Blankenship, Lowell Resident

ATTENTION Lowell Residents
This is your LAST chance to voice your opinion to the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) concerning the “Illiana” TOLL ROAD!

The FINAL vote on accepting the ILLIANA TOLL ROAD into NIRPC’s 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan takes place on December 12, 2013 at the Sycamore Room at Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road, Portage, Indiana 46368
9:00 AM

This TOLL ROAD is to be built under a Public/Private Partnership, which means that if not even one vehicle uses this toll road the private investors will still get paid with TAXPAYER money (YOUR MONEY)!

Any Questions?: call 219-776-8857

 

Transportation Committee Approves Illiana; Gary Abstains

3 Dec

by Ken Davidson

The Transportation Committee of the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission voted 18-8 this morning to add the Illiana toll road project to the 2040 comprehensive plan.  The controversial vote moves the issue forward to the full NIRPC Committee where the fate is uncertain.  The major surprise was the abstention by Gary.  Opponents of the plan had hoped that Gary would vote against the project because it will adversely affect Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s plan to make Gary a transportation hub.

The meeting was strongly attended by union members who support the construction jobs the project will bring. Proponents have argued that the project would bring thousands of jobs to the region.  Residents of the affected region voiced their opposition to the plan via comments online.  Dan Blankenship, a vocal opponent of the plan who lives in Lowell commented:

Nov 19, 2013

I oppose the Illiana for reasons shown in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan from NIRPC that states we need to upkeep roads and highways and infrastructure in the northern part of Lake County and keep intact our farmlands, our wetlands and our wooded areas. It would be a great move if NIRPC turned down this road to nowhere. It will not benefit Indiana in any way. There is no way there will be 16,000 jobs created. Crains’ Chicago Business magazine quoted that the actual belief is it will create only about 900 jobs and that would be over a 10-15 year period. The toll road is not needed, it is a fiasco and I hope all NIRPC members will vote against it. Thank you.  Dan Blankenship, Lowell

All of the comments received by NIRPC are published on their website and you can view them <a href="http://nirpc.org/illiana-expressway-project/public-comments.aspx"Here.

The proposal will now go to full Commission.  At full Commission any member may call for a “weighted vote.” Under the rules, a weighted vote will allow communities to vote based on population. This means that the northern county cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago would have a much larger say in whether the plan moves forward.