LOWELL | Local government leaders were fired up Thursday about a change in the Illiana Expressway planning that they say will be impossible to meet.
The funding local leaders had been told would be forthcoming to help pay for providing emergency services on a 12-mile stretch of the proposed toll road will not happen.
Blame it on legislators, Jim East, of the Indiana Department of Transportation, said Thursday during a stakeholders meeting of municipal and township officials.
“It’s bad news. These are the limitations I’ve been given,” he said.
Local taxpayer-funded budgets pay for emergency services already stretched to the limit, said Pat Mussman, wife of West Creek Township Trustee Harold Mussman.
“We can’t afford it,” she said. “We can’t afford the personnel.”
East said the state requires local governments to handle emergency coverage and collect from insurance companies of those serviced.
The Illiana Expressway would run 47 miles from Interstate 65 just northeast of Lowell to Interstate 55, near Wilmington, Ill. It has a projected cost of $1.3 billion. It will be operated as a toll road.
Lowell Council Vice President Craig Earley, D-1st, said Tri-Creek Emergency Medical Services and local volunteer fire departments already have trouble collecting from people they help on Interstate 65 and U.S. 41.
State-mandated, but unfunded, local emergency coverage of Indiana highways is a problem across the state, said Richard Rampone, senior supervising engineer with Parsons Brinckerhoff. The company is spearheading the current phase of the Illiana project.
Randy Wietbrock, a member of the Cedar Creek Township Advisory Board, said, “The reality is that this is a private road, not a state road. There’s a big difference between public and private. Whoever takes control of this road should upfront be paying for the EMS. They’re getting money for it (in tolls.)”
Wietbrock suggested the emergency services payments be a part of the bidding process, so it would be permanently funded.
East said he’s never heard of that being done, but that’s no reason not to try.
East and Rampone told the group they would take any reasonable financial suggestions to the proper authorities.
Lowell Town Councilman Phillip Kuiper, D-4th, said it all comes down to local officials’ obligations to their constituents, who pay the taxes.
“The EMS is for our folks,” he said, and there may be cases when Illiana emergencies would have to wait.
The highway includes some previously unmentioned benefits, East said. It is a possibility that the ponds along such projects could be combined to form a reservoir for a new municipal water source for Lowell, he said.
Illiana planners will meet with south Lake County emergency medical service representatives at 6 p.m. Feb. 6.
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