Members of a key Northwestern Indiana planning agency Thursday approved going ahead with the Illiana Corridor, a proposed toll road that would serve primarily as a trucking corridor linking interstates in Illinois and Indiana.
The board of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, made up of more than 50 local officials, decided to include the Illiana in their comprehensive plan. The action was considered a crucial vote that could have scuttled the project.
The decision mirrors one made in Illinois by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Policy Committee on Oct. 17. That panel approved the controversial Illiana proposal by an 11-8 vote.
Gov. Pat Quinn supports the estimated $1.3 billion project, calling it a major job engine.
Supporters say the toll road would create 9,000 short-term jobs and generate thousands more over the next three decades.
The Illiana Corridor was approved in Illinois by the Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, which by federal law must sign off on major transportation projects.
Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said much work remains over the next year to complete planning and start soliciting bids from private investors who would partner with the state.
More than 300 people jammed a park building in Portage for the meeting of the commission, where it was standing room only.
Among them were dozens of members of Operating Engineers Local 150, who support the Illiana. Most wore yellow buttons with “Build Illiana” on them.
Several Illiana opponents were also present, many wearing buttons with a slash across “Illiana.” Opponents said the Illiana would divert traffic and resources away from northern Lake County.
They said the Illiana would benefit the proposed Peotone airport at the expense of Gary International Airport. Foes said the Illiana would tear up fertile farmland and disrupt the quality of life in more rural communities like Lowell.
Discussion lasted more than two hours. The vote was 29-8 in favor, but the votes were weighted, giving more weight to communities with larger population like Hammond.
The NIRPC’s board is comprised of dozens of elected and appointed officials from towns, cities, townships and Lake and LaPorte counties.
Most of the funding is expected to come from a private concessionaire as part of a public-private partnership that Illinois and Indiana would award jointly.