Chesterton Tribune



Burns Harbor rejects Illiana as having no benefit to town or region

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“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 development plan.

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 consensus is there’s no benefit to the town if the Illiana is built so he will vote no.

In other business the council and Jim McGee as president made appointments to municipal boards and commissions for 2014. Tyler DeMar was retained as secretary for the Advisory Plan Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Sanitation Board, and Brian Beach was named Fire Department secretary. All are paid positions.

Tracy Freeze was reappointed to the BZA, Bernie Poparad to the Plan Commission and Leann Perrine to the Park Board for four-year terms. Long-time dedicated Plan/BZA member Terry Swanson is retiring from public service, said McGee, so he appointed Eric Hull to complete the remaining two years on the dual appointment.

Annual council appointments to the Plan Commission will remain the same: McGee, Weibl and Freeze.

It also was agreed current council liaisons to town departments will remain the same, and Freeze will continue as the town’s representative to NIRPC.





Posted 12/12/2013