Debbie Little used her cell phone to record a simulated video of the route of the proposed Willowcreek Road extension through the west side of Porter County.
She was one of more than 150 people who attended an open house about the project at the Porter County Expo Center on Tuesday evening, hosted by American Structurepoint, the county’s engineering and design contractor for the highway, which would extend from where Willowcreek Road comes to an end at County Road 700 North at the southern city limit of Portage to US 30.
“Looks like it’s going to come within a mile of my house across the field,” said Little, who lives on County Road 450 North in Union Township. “It’s getting a lot closer than I thought and it’s going to be a mess.”
She doubts drivers will stick to the 45mph speed limit announced during a project video featuring US representatives from Structurepoint at the start of the open day. Little has lived in her home for 23 years and grew up in Wheeler.
She worries about tractor-trailers passing on the road between US 30 and Interstate 94 and the Indiana Toll Road ramps in Portage and her long-awaited new view of a bridge over Indiana 130.
“Hopefully something will happen here and it won’t really happen,” Little said. “Otherwise, I will move.
During a 20-minute video, which can be viewed along with route maps and the mock video shown at the meeting on www.willowcreekextension.com, representatives from American Structurepoint reviewed the preferred route for the project, selected from five other options initially under consideration. A public comment form is also available on the website.
The 4.6-mile road as proposed would consist of two lanes with 10-foot shoulders on each side, with another 10-foot path for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, as well as a utility corridor. The project, officials said in the video, would include bridges over Indiana 130 and railroad tracks, as well as drainage improvements, particularly at the highway’s junction with County Road 700 North, an area with a history of flooding.
Residents remain frustrated with what they said was a lack of communication since the project began moving forward more than two years ago, something Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North, who attended the meeting with a handful of other current and newly elected county officials. , conceded.
“I fully understand that they think the county failed to communicate why they were looking at this and what they thought about it, and I agree,” Biggs said later, adding after the November election. , in which Commissioners Chairman Jeff Bon, R-Center, did not seek reappointment, the board will have new leadership in January.
A priority for the council, which will include Republican Barb Regnitz representing the Central District and incumbent Laura Blaney, D-South, will be a public meeting with commissioners and American Structurepoint where residents can ask questions.
Biggs doesn’t blame American Structurepoint for the lack of communication and said commissioners should have been more aware of what the community was thinking. He supports a new north-south link route given the county’s continued growth, though he is not convinced that the chosen route is necessarily the best one.
“We’re still talking about 2025 before the first shovelful of soil has returned so it’s still there” to better inform the community, he said. “I don’t think there was a conscious effort on the part of the county or the engineering company to keep people in the dark. I think it was insensitive. This is a big deal.”
There are two dozen other projects the commissioners would rather spend money on, but the new road is critical to the county’s traffic flow, Biggs added. “I don’t want to wake up one morning and have the same problems as St. John and Munster.”
The road expansion, said Union Township Administrator George Topoll, has been discussed for decades and is part of a 2002 master plan for the county. He is the immediate past chairman of the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and served on the commission for eight years.
“I think it’s virtually unavoidable,” he said, adding that the county needs a safe north-south corridor and that the proposed one includes bridges over the train tracks and drainage improvements, as well than a pedestrian/cycle path.
Jeff Langan, who like many in the crowd dressed in orange and green Wheeler Bearcats gear, held a sign opposing the extension through the video presentation.
He said he was “absolutely baffled” that plans for the route had taken shape over the past few months when officials had no information to share not too long ago.
“There are more questions now,” he said, adding that he spotted a host of errors in the video presentation, including a reference to the old high school and the Jones Road starting point. . “They’ve come close but the attention to detail really seems to be lacking.”
Portage Mayor Sue Lynch, who attended the meeting with two city council members, said the video presentation was informative, but said no one from the county had contacted the city about connection plans to Willowcreek Road, which will add truck traffic to a major artery that would devastate the city.
“Why has no one contacted us? she said, blaming county officials. “We own this road. My concern is the town of Portage.
Lynch’s concerns, Biggs said, are legitimate, especially since Willowcreek Road passes Willowcreek Middle School. The county, he added, should have contacted city officials with the Willowcreek Road expansion plans and asked them what their concerns were, as it also has concerns about that.
“I think only good can come out of us by making it more public so everyone understands. Even if they don’t live in the Wheeler area, they should be careful because it’s a lot of money,” he said.
According to documents on the Willowcreek Road Project website, the estimated total cost of the preferred route as of September 2020 was $27.88 million, making it the second lowest price of the six routes originally considered. It is expected that 80% of the cost will be paid for with federal funds, an American Structurepoint official said in an online presentation that was part of the town hall meeting that month.
David Parry lives one mile south of US 30 on County Road 600 West in Union Township, so this won’t cross his property. Still, he found the format of the open house interesting, in that after the video presentation, officials provided different stations with road maps.
Because not everyone in the audience could hear all the questions asked, Parry said, their impact was diminished.
“They should be able to hear all the questions. In my opinion, they just don’t want anyone to hear the questions,” he said. “It is clear that there is enormous potential for development. Is it an access road or a development access road? »