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Evans: Willowcreek Road extension will be 'game changer' for Porter County

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County’s road to financial recovery may be through the road itself.

That’s the feeling of County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, who went off the agenda at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting to sound the charge for his fellow officials to get behind an effort to extend Willowcreek Road in Portage south to U.S. 30 and beyond.

“The Commissioners view this as a game changing project for Porter County,” Evans said, citing the potential to bring more economic growth with the expansion in accordance with the vision of the County Jobs Cabinet.

Evans has long been a proponent for a north-south roadway that spans the length of the county. He mentioned Tuesday that the concept of extending Willowcreek Road had been adopted in the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2011.

While the county has many highways that cut through east-west such as U.S. 30, U.S. 12, U.S. 20, Ind. 2 and Ind. 8, as well as Interstate 94 and the Toll Road, Evans said Ind. 49 is the only roadway that runs north-south traversing the county, but serves only the east half. Despite population changes and employment demographics, the current network of roads has remained unchanged for many years, he added.

“One of the obvious potential benefits for an extension of Willowcreek Road is the enhancement of our transportation network for the west side of the county,” Evans said.

Willocreek Road’s southern most point is where it tees at CR 700W, four and a half miles north of U.S. 30. Evans said he would like the road broadened to four lanes and connect it with Ind. 2 which runs south of Valparaiso and eventually past Hebron.

It is the Commissioners’ belief, Evans said, that “thoughtful planning would enhance development and redevelopment in strategic areas” which then would spur economic growth and broaden the County’s tax base.

Evans also called for a feasibility study of improvements to CR 100S in Porter Twp. which in the past has had improvement plans that “created controversy among the residents.” The study will address “various functional and safety deficiencies that plague” the roadway, he said.

“Our aim is not to construct a ‘super highway’ through the south part of the county, but to address known safety issues and maintain a passable road to serve the south county residents,” Evans said.

Evans along with fellow Commissioners Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Blaney, D-South, voted unanimously in approval to begin soliciting proposals from professional groups.

For the Willowcreek Road expansion, Evans gave no timeline for the project and estimated the overall cost would be at least $60 million but the effort will involve a plethora of funding sources from many state and federal agencies.

He also said he anticipates federal funding to be used in initial and future phases of the feasibility study and therefore the County will be using the procedures recommended by the Indiana Department of Transportation for the selection of a consultant of work.

Evans said it is the Commissioners’ goal to also seek public input throughout the process. Progress of the project will be regularly discussed at Commissioner meetings, he said.

There have been no documents or plans that have been preconceived for the Willowcreek Road extension and the initial work will be to examine the feasibility of both projects, Evans said.

“If executed correctly, and with public input, this project meets the Jobs Cabinet’s mission of truly being a game changing event,” said Evans.

With the County Council in “dire need of money” as revenue continues to dwindle and operational costs are on the rise, Evans said economic impact from these corridors will grow assessed values.

“(The Council) can cut, cut, cut or grow our assessed valuation. This is the only project I know that can do both,” Evans said.

 

Posted 10/16/2013