“I’m not going out there alone on this thing,” Jeff Freeze told fellow
members of the Burns Harbor Town Council.
Following a discussion Wednesday the council decided Freeze should vote no
today on including the controversial Illiana Expressway in a regional 2040
Town of Porter representative councilman Greg Stinson said Tuesday he likely
will vote no also.
Freeze is Burns Harbor’s appointment to the Northwestern Indiana Regional
Planning Commission; its full 53-person membership was slated to vote in
Portage this morning on the Illiana. Each county and municipality in Lake,
Porter and LaPorte counties has a vote.
Freeze said the Illiana is a very heated issue, and NIRPC’s rejection would
greatly impact the potential for the approximately $1.3 billion project
going forward. Construction of the new public/private tollway would stretch
from I-55 south of Joliet, Ill. to I-65 south of Crown Point in Lake County.
Freeze said he’s received close to 50-60 correspondences and phone calls
about the Illiana, 98 percent of them from residents of Lowell and 98
percent in opposition.
Even though he’s for economic development and progress, Freeze explained,
he’s inclined to vote no. Whether the Illiana will divert traffic,
especially trucks, from congested Interstate-94 here isn’t clear; some
believe it would be only 2 percent less. He also questioned whether building
a new toll road is financially feasible, and whether the Illiana would drain
population and investment from NIRPC’s urban-core cities in the north.
Councilman Greg Miller said, “I stand for placemaking first and you use
roads to connect places.”
Member Gene Weibl said the Illiana won’t make a significant dent in I-94
traffic, and the only people who will use the tollway are Illinois residents
trying to get to the ficticious Peotone airport.
Approximately 36 miles of the 47-mile road will be in Illinois. Supporters
say the jobs created to build it would be a significant number and boost the
region’s economy, and shifting traffic off I-94 will help protect the
fragile Indiana Dunes.
Freeze predicted this morning’s NIRPC Full Commission meeting would be
packed because regional leaders are split whether it’s good for the area, so
“a lot of political capital and leverage is being spent here. There’s a lot
of politics in this vote.”
Indications are some Lake County members will call for a weighted NIRPC vote
based on population, said Freeze, because only a few “no” votes from large
cities can kill it. Also, NIRPC’s enabling law mandates using the 2000
census, not the most current 2010 census, he noted. That means Burns
Harbor’s weighted vote would be 0.019 percent rather than 0.15 percent.
Freeze said he’s concluded Burns Harbor’s con