WESTWARD WOE? – MORE HIGHWAY DOINS’

Farther west of the U.S. 31 Route, State Representative Ed Soliday of Valparaiso, a Republican, is attempting to put the brakes on the Illiana Expressway – at least in the realm of financing. This past Friday, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) was to select from among three firms to prepare a study of the proposed Illiana Expressway – the smaller highway project which would connect Interstate 57 in Illinois to Interstate 65 in Lake County, Indiana. Since INDOT has neglected to return repeated calls to reporters seeking the information, no word as to the choice of firm has yet been announced.

The crux of the problem is INDOT’s focus on only one method of financing – the private tollway model championed by the head privatization guru himself, Governor Daniels.

The request for proposals INDOT put out in June appears to heavily favor the so-called “P3” funding – public-private partnership – highway model. The P3 model is better known as privatization, folks. The agency attempted to diffuse that concern Friday by releasing a Q & A form that informed prospective consultants, “INDOT is intending to determine the overall feasibility of developing the Illiana Expressway as a tolled facility, minimizing or entirely eliminating the need for state funding contributions.” How does that diffuse anything? It appears to simply reiterate the position that the highway will follow the path of the other private funding deals of the Governor by eliminating state funding and, in doing so, sealing a private funding alternative.

Representative Soliday is not hesitant in his course of action. He says he is willing to take the agency to court to ensure compliance with the law governing the Illiana Expressway. The law to which he is referring is Senate Bill 105, which gives the Indiana Department of Transportation two years to conduct a feasibility study of the proposed Illiana Expressway.

The law states that INDOT’s report must include:

(1) A description of the need for an Illiana expressway.
(2) An evaluation concerning the feasibility of an Illiana expressway, including the following:

(A) Projections for acquisition costs and eminent domain issues.
(B) Expected use of the proposed expressway and any toll revenues.
(C) Expected construction costs.
(D) Expected operating and maintenance costs.
(E) Options for funding acquisition, construction, operation, and maintenance costs.

(3) A description of the department’s recommended route for an Illiana expressway, including the following:

(A) Traffic projections showing expected use and relief of traffic congestion.
(B) Alternative routes.
(C) Economic impact studies on the proposed route and affected areas.

The following is what INDOT asked consultants vying to conduct the study to consider:

1. Should the Illiana Expressway be developed?
2. Can it be constructed and placed into used and useful service?
3. Can it be financed in its entirety as a tolled, public private partnership with
no capital contribution required of the State of Indiana? It is anticipated that no
federal funding will be used during any phase of the development.

Daniels makes no secret of his love for privatization; he hasn’t met a segment of government that, in his mind, could not be privatized. When questioned Friday about the apparent lack of alternative financing for the Illiana Expressway, Daniels said he doesn’t believe INDOT intended to violate the Illiana study legislation — Senate Bill 105, which he signed into law in May. So the Governor jumped to the defense of INDOT by saying:

“They may have misconstrued it,” the governor said of INDOT. “I did see (Soliday’s) letter yesterday and I told them: ‘Take a real quick look and let’s find out.’ If it needs to be broadened, it should.”

Daniels’ statement that INDOT could have misconstrued the law is ridiculous. If they “misconstrued” the law, then it is because the Governor makes his policies known and those working under him follow his chosen policies like lapdogs – that is not misconstruing anything; it is kowtowing to the administration (just as IDEM has done to support the Guv’s policy to increase pork production by backing off on CAFO requirements).

The law uses the word “options”, which indicates that more than one alternative is to be considered. The request INDOT put to consultants focused entirely on the P3 model (see #3 above under INDOT request).

Representative Soliday sits on the Illiana Expressway Proposal Review Committee, and he was instrumental in the passage of Senate Bill 105, which provided the impetus for the Illiana Expressway study. As a Republican, his first thought might be to back Governor Daniels’ position on financing the Illiana Expressway in whatever manner possible. However, Soliday is nervous about the slant toward the P3 model of financing.

What is also interesting is the composition of the Illiana Expressway Proposal Review Committee. The Committee is evenly split with four Republicans – two from the Senate and two from the House – and four Democrats – two from the Senate and two from the House. All members, with the exception of one – Terri Austin of Anderson – are from northwest Indiana. Yet the only member who questioned INDOT’s actions was Ed Soliday, a House Republican.

Although I applaud Representative Soliday’s challenge to INDOT and Governor Daniels, I see a bigger concern arising in the Illiana Expressway project. Anyone who has traveled to Chicago through northwestern Indiana knows that, once you hit Valparaiso, it is nothing but one long concrete strip mall.

While loops and bypasses are touted initially as relievers of congestion in specific areas, what they ultimately become is the harbinger of future congestion. The tendency is to expand outward and outward because zoning and planning boards and commissions tremble at the thought of clamping down on developers who are intent on turning every inch they can into residential subdivisions and more strip malls.

Just look at loops around major cities – they fill in and contribute to urban sprawl. And urban sprawl is urban sprawl – eating up agricultural land and bringing added environmental stressors to the area. Let’s hope that Soliday’s interest in the financial aspect of the Illiana Expressway will, in the end, translate into true concern for urban sprawl and its potential to destroy the environment of an already overburdened area.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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