PORTAGE, Ind. (AP) – A proposed 47-mile toll road that would link northwest Indiana and Chicago’s south suburbs passed a key hurdle Thursday when a regional planning board voted in favor of it, clearing the way for it to be submitted for federal approval.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission approved the Illiana Expressway, which would connect Interstate 65 near Lowell with Interstate 55 south of Chicago, on a weighted voted of 76-20, The Times of Munster reported. Each member’s vote was based the population of the community the member represented.
Bob Alderman, the Indiana Department of Transportation deputy commissioner and a non-voting member of the planning commission, urged members to approve the expressway, saying it will make the Interstate 80-94 Borman Expressway and other roads safer.
“Do you feel good about your families being out there (on the Borman)?” Alderman asked. “Do you feel good about your friends being out there?”
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. failed in his attempt to delay the vote, urging the commission to wait because the NIRPC committee in charge of implementing its 2040 plan had been unable to come to a decision for or against the Illiana Expressway.
“We are taking people’s homes with this,” McDermott said. “We are changing the landscape of south Lake County.”
The plan previously had been approved by a similar Illinois board. The next step is to receive federal approval.
James A. Earl, INDOT project manager, told the Post-Tribune that Indiana and Illinois will each hold public hearings in mid-January to allow comments on the environmental impact of the project. No date or place has been set for those hearings, he said.
Those findings will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval, which could come as early as March, INDOT spokesman Jim Pinkerton said.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn both support the project, saying it would promote economic development. Critics maintain the $1.3 billion road would have minimal impact on economic development and is too costly.
If approved, work could begin as early as 2015.