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Ind. Transportation Chief Says State Must Look at Illiana

Sat March 24, 2007 - Midwest Edition

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (AP) Indiana would be irresponsible if it didn’t at least look at whether there is a need for a proposed highway that would connect Interstate 94 in northwestern Indiana with Interstate 57 in Illinois, the state Department of Transportation commissioner said Feb.7 .

Karl Browning said if the state doesn’t take a close look now at building the Illiana Expressway to try to relieve traffic in northwest Indiana, the Borman Expressway (Interstate 80/94) likely will have the same traffic tie-ups in a decade that it faced before undergoing recent improvements.

“We are at the cusp of when we must begin that plan,” Browning told approximately 75 people attending a forum sponsored by The Times of Munster. “We are at the point where we must do it. To not look at it, ladies and gentlemen, is irresponsible.”

Browning said that’s because it takes 10 to 15 years for a proposed roadway to go from the idea stage to construction. That includes three to seven years to determine whether the road is economically viable and where it should go.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has said it would study the feasibility of the proposed expressway and its possible route.

The Indiana Senate has voted to give Gov. Mitch Daniels authority to seek private funding to build the Indiana section of the expressway, along with another tollway bypass of Indianapolis. The bill could face a rough road in the Democratically controlled House, though. No House Democrat voted for the lease of the Indiana Toll Road and Democrats have opposed other efforts by Daniels to privatize state assets and services.

Browning said there is no way to fund the Illiana Expressway without private funding unless the state took money from other road projects. He said exactly what type of private funding would be used has not been decided.

“What we would do is go to the market and say, ’We have this opportunity. Propose to us,’” Browning said. “I think the door is wide open.”

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said she and Daniels believe the Illiana Expressway is critical to the future of northwest Indiana.

“It could reduce congestion, provide the economic muscle that will allow the region and, quite frankly, all of Indiana to flourish and stay competitive in the global marketplace,” she said.

Opponents of the legislation have said that it was uncertain how much economic growth the proposed privately built and operated tollways would generate and that it was unclear whether the new tollways would significantly reduce traffic on some of the state’s congested highways.

Skillman said it’s important people in the region want the road.

“The governor has no interest in building this road if when all of the factors are considered, a majority of the citizens in the region do not think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Browning said it will be up to state representatives to decide whether area residents want the road.

“If it fails the House, it would seem to me to be an indication the people don’t want it,” he said. “It cannot go forward without the approval for public-private partnership in the beginning.”

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