WBEZ | Northwest Indiana http://www.wbez.org/tags/northwest-indiana Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Syrian Family Who Were Supposed to Resettle in Indiana Now Call Connecticut Home http://www.wbez.org/news/syrian-family-who-were-supposed-resettle-indiana-now-call-connecticut-home-113929 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/RTXVBTO.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" src="http://cdn1.pri.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_main/public/story/images/RTXVBTO.jpg?itok=k4US2pVA" style="border: 0px; vertical-align: bottom; max-width: 100%; height: 349px; color: rgb(51, 51, 60); font-family: 'Source Sans Pro', 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, 'Nimbus Sans L', sans-serif; font-size: 18px; line-height: 27px; width: 620px; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);" title="Indiana governor Mike Pence. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)" typeof="foaf:Image" /></p><p>Governors from more than two dozen states&nbsp;have made similar statements, opposing resettlement in their states. And on Thursday, the US House of Representatives voted, by a veto-proof margin, to bar Syrian refugee resettlement until the government can make certain stringent certifications&nbsp;that refugees aren&#39;t terrorists. The measure must still be considered by the Senate, where its prospects seem more mixed.&nbsp;Their objections come after last week&rsquo;s deadly attacks in Paris.</p><div><iframe frameborder="0" height="550" scrolling="no" src="https://w.graphiq.com/w/4PSrucsgVal?data-uid=740930cdef&amp;data-campaign=da4730a653" style="width: 847.017px;" width="600"></iframe></div><p>Carleen Miller, executive director of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.exodusrefugee.org/index.html" target="_blank">Exodus Refugee Immigration</a>, the organization that handled the family&rsquo;s case says that they decided to send the family to Connecticut after the issue became so politicized.</p><p>&ldquo;It was the first Syrian case to come to the US after the governor had started making these statements and we weren&rsquo;t sure what would happen to this family,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Miller adds that there was already a lot of media interest and her agency felt that the family&rsquo;s transition to the US would be much smoother if they were sent to Connecticut.</p><p>&ldquo;We were concerned that this family needed to get the services they needed and not be caught up as a political football in this situation,&rdquo; she explains.</p><p>The couple fled war-torn Syria with their young child in 2011. They registered with the United Nations and were granted refugee status. They started their application to be resettled in the US in 2012. It took three years for them to go through the screening and vetting process.</p><p>Finally, a few weeks ago Miller&rsquo;s agency received information about their case and accepted their application.</p><p>Miller says she is &ldquo;really disheartened&rdquo; by what has happened.</p><p>&ldquo;This is very painful for us in the resettlement community,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Miller argues that refugees are the most screened people that arrive in the US, much more than tourists, for example.</p><p>She feels like the governors have reacted in a knee-jerk fashion.</p><p>&ldquo;I think that he [Pence] is operating on misinformation,&rdquo; she says, adding that he is not aware of the &ldquo;very thorough process that we have in place in the resettlement program for all refugees coming into the country.&rdquo;</p><div><iframe frameborder="0" height="545" scrolling="no" src="https://w.graphiq.com/w/981FzMvTK3X?data-uid=740930cdef&amp;data-campaign=da4730a653" style="width: 847.017px;" width="600"></iframe></div><p>The case of Iraqi refugees Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi doesn&rsquo;t help.</p><p>Alwan&nbsp;and Hammadi were resettled in Bowling Green, Kentucky, back in 2009. In 2011 they were arrested in the US for supporting extremism.</p><p>&ldquo;They basically plotted to send weapons and cash to al-Qaeda in Iraq to support the insurgency there,&rdquo; says journalist Lisa Autry with WKU public radio in Kentucky,&nbsp;who reported the story at the time.</p><p>The weapons included sniper rifles and stinger missles. But the money and the arms never made it to Iraq. The scheme was foiled by an FBI informant.</p><p>&ldquo;[Hammadi and Alwan] had both been involved in insurgent attacks in Iraq before coming to Bowling Green in 2009 as refugees. Alwan&rsquo;s fingerprints were found on an&nbsp;IED&nbsp;in Iraq back in 2005, which helped seal the case.&rdquo;</p><p>In the wake of the Kentucky case, the US halted the refugee process for six months, Autry adds, and the local process of vetting refugees was re-evaluated she says. But this case shook up the small community of Bowling Green.&nbsp;It&rsquo;s a community that has welcomed many different refugees from Bosnia, Burma and Somalia. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It was hard to believe that anyone like that could be among us. It&rsquo;s very much a small, very much Mayberry-type community.&rdquo;</p><p>Following the Paris Attacks, members of the refugee community in Bowling Green have shared with Autry their own fears of the hurt that followed the discovery of Hammadi Alwan.</p><p>&ldquo;They hate what the Paris terrorist attacks have done as far as creating that national/international discussion about bringing in refugees &mdash; who have the best intentions, have the intentions of seeking just a safe haven and starting a new life for them and their families,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Bowling Green will become home to about 400 new refugees this year &mdash; 100 of whom will be resettled from Iraq. None currently are set to come from Syria.</p><p>Back&nbsp;in Indianapolis, residents have reacted to this by flooding Miller&rsquo;s agency with email and phone calls to show their support for Syrian refugees. Some have offered lodging for them.</p><p>Miller says she is talking with the federal government to find out whether the state can legally stop the services that they give to refugee families. Legal experts have suggested that state officials can&#39;t stop refugee resettlement, but they can certainly make it more difficult. Once that is resolved, she says she hopes to continue resettling families as usual.</p><p>The Syrian family who was hoping to go to Indiana is now in Connecticut. Miller says they have been received warmly by both Connecticut and Indiana.</p><p>&ldquo;Indiana people have sent an Edible Arrangement for them,&rdquo; she says.&nbsp;&ldquo;They are sending their thoughts to that family.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><div><iframe frameborder="0" height="575" scrolling="no" src="https://w.graphiq.com/w/bSmsh29q1KZ?data-uid=740930cdef&amp;data-campaign=da4730a653" style="width: 847.017px;" width="640"></iframe></div><div>&mdash; <a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-11-19/syrian-family-who-were-supposed-resettle-indiana-now-call-connecticut-home" target="_blank"><em>via PRI&#39;s The World</em></a></div></p> Thu, 19 Nov 2015 15:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/syrian-family-who-were-supposed-resettle-indiana-now-call-connecticut-home-113929 It’s not just CPS: suburban and Catholic schools are back, too http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-08-26/it%E2%80%99s-not-just-cps-suburban-and-catholic-schools-are-back-too <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/school supplies Nick Amoscato.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Public School students are getting ready to get back to class after Labor Day, and the district is gearing up for a new year with a new CEO and some old budget problems. But there are more than 2 million kids enrolled statewide, and many districts have already started, including many suburban schools. Then there are Catholic schools and the changes, closures and consolidations brought on by the archdiocese. And, our neighbors in Northwest Indiana are dealing with a new state funding formula and a shortage of teachers. We&#39;re joined by Dr. Mary Kearney, interim Superintendent for the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools, Michael A. Jacoby, Executive Director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and WBEZ Northwest Indiana reporter Michael Puente.</p></p> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 11:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-08-26/it%E2%80%99s-not-just-cps-suburban-and-catholic-schools-are-back-too Northwest Indiana steel industry not out of the woods yet http://www.wbez.org/news/northwest-indiana-steel-industry-not-out-woods-yet-112527 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 6.59.22 AM.png" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s not easy to find the <a href="http://www.yelp.com/biz/great-lakes-cafe-gary">Great Lakes Cafe</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The greasy spoon is tucked behind an urban jungle of tall grass and railroad tracks near the lakeshore of Gary, Indiana.</p><p dir="ltr">On the menu, the five-egg Steelworker&rsquo;s Omelet hints at the cafe&rsquo;s regulars.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re right across the street from U.S. Steel,&rdquo; said Jessica Quezada, whose father Michael Klidaras has owned the restaurant since 1994. &ldquo;We have this big complex here with a few refractories and a couple of other companies. We&rsquo;re very lucky to be here.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">And the folks working inside the massive Gary Works across the street are lucky to have jobs, for now.</p><p dir="ltr">More than 700 workers have been laid off at the site &mdash; U.S. Steel&rsquo;s largest plant worldwide &mdash; this year alone. There are rumblings that there could be more to come at all five major steel mills in Northwest Indiana.</p><p dir="ltr">At the Great Lakes Cafe, retired U.S. Steel worker Malcolm Maxwell worries about the ripple effects.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It would be very devastating not just in Gary but all of Northwest Indiana,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You know, you think about other people.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">People like Bob Tribble, an electrician at the Gary Works for 22 years.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot of talk on the shop floor. It does concern us that there&rsquo;s a possibility of layoffs,&rdquo; Tribble said.</p><p dir="ltr">Union salaries in the mills can range from $50,000 to $100,000, and he says replacing that would be tough.</p><p>&ldquo;These are pretty good jobs. They pay a livable wage with insurance, with pensions. So these jobs are pretty hard to come by,&rdquo; Tribble said.</p><p dir="ltr">Northwest Indiana produces more steel than any other part of the country.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.steel.org/~/media/Files/AISI/General%20Docs/Factsheet-Job_Engine.pdf">An industry group</a> says for every one job, steel creates seven other jobs in the local economy.</p><p dir="ltr">During its heyday in the 1950s and &lsquo;60s, more than 100,000 people worked in the mills in this region. Today, it&rsquo;s about 20,000.</p><p dir="ltr">The domestic steel industry has long experienced booms and busts, but it&rsquo;s been especially slow coming back from the Great Recession.</p><p dir="ltr">Analysts say that&rsquo;s due to a strong dollar, the falling price of oil, and foreign imports.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We have a right to protect the house we live in from people who want to burn it down or take advantage of us,&rdquo; said U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, a Democrat from Merrillville.</p><p dir="ltr">Visclosky, who represents Northwest Indiana, has spent 30 years fighting against so called &ldquo;steel dumping.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s when foreign manufacturers flood the market with low-cost steel.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://visclosky.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/visclosky-offers-steel-amendment-to-trade-promotion-authority">Last month Visclosky helped pass legislation</a> that makes it easier for American steel companies to prove they&rsquo;re being hurt by the practice.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We don&rsquo;t have to be bankrupt, we don&rsquo;t have to be out of business to prove injury. That&rsquo;s a huge advantage to the industry,&rdquo; Visclosky said.</p><p dir="ltr">But not everyone buys that excuse.</p><p>&ldquo;They always like to blame somebody else. The biggest importer of steel is the U.S. steel industry,&rdquo; said longtime steel analyst Charles Bradford of New York City.</p><p dir="ltr">He says imposing tariffs on foreign steel companies let&rsquo;s U.S. producers off the hook.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It tends to relieve the companies from a lot of pressure on improving their facilities,&rdquo; Bradford said.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://www.steel.org/">American Iron and Steel Institute</a> disputes this. It says companies have invested millions in technology while also reducing costs.</p><p dir="ltr">But just this week, <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-states-steel-corporation-reports-2015-second-quarter-results-300120204.html">U.S. Steel reported a 2nd-quarter loss of $261 million</a>. Steel giant <a href="http://www.platts.com/latest-news/metals/pittsburgh/arcelormittal-to-make-final-wire-rod-shipment-21837750">Arcelormittal will soon shutter one of its wire rod facilities in South Carolina</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">At ArcelorMittal&rsquo;s three plants in Northwest Indiana, workers worry they could be next. The company already laid off 300 workers here in January.</p><p>Jose Cortez has worked at an ArcelorMittal plant in East Chicago for 12 years.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There&rsquo;s always talk about shutting this down or shutting that down,&rdquo; Cortez said. &nbsp;&ldquo;I&rsquo;m not sure what the company specifically intends to achieve with that, but there&rsquo;s always a little bit of that during contract time.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The current contract expires September 1. The United Steelworkers of America is in talks with both ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel.</p><p dir="ltr">Cortez says he&rsquo;s already saving money just in case.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve worked since I was 15. I have never been without a job. You&rsquo;d just have to make do,&rdquo; Cortez said.</p><p><em>Michael Puente is WBEZ&rsquo;s Northwest Indiana Bureau Reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews">@MikePuenteNews</a></em></p></p> Fri, 31 Jul 2015 06:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/northwest-indiana-steel-industry-not-out-woods-yet-112527 Morning Shift: News from Northwest Indiana http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-01-02/morning-shift-news-northwest-indiana-111323 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/LHOON.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We&#39;re Indiana bound as we give a little love to &quot;the region&quot; exploring some issues facing the Hoosier state in 2015 with WBEZ&#39;s Michael Puente. We recap the Winter Classic. And, we speak with a best-selling author whose book boasts bacon and a fool-proof fitness plan.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-126/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-126.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-126" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: News from Northwest Indiana " on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Fri, 02 Jan 2015 08:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-01-02/morning-shift-news-northwest-indiana-111323 Explosion at BP refinery, no injuries reported http://www.wbez.org/news/explosion-bp-refinery-no-injuries-reported-110719 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/whiting.png" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated Aug. 28, 7:47 a.m.</em></p><p>WHITING, Ind. &mdash; A fire broke out after an explosion at a BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, which rattled nearby homes.</p><p>BP America spokesman Scott Dean said early Thursday that the refinery, which is just east of Chicago, had &quot;an operational incident&quot; on a process unit about 9 p.m. He said in a statement that the plant&#39;s in-house fire department responded, and the fire was out by 10:55 p.m.</p><p>Dean said refinery operations were &quot;minimally&quot; affected and that one employee was taken to a hospital as a precaution, but was later released.</p><p>A Whiting Fire Department spokesman said the explosion could be heard clearly several blocks from the plant.</p><p>The Chicago Sun-Times said Wednesday was the anniversary of a 1955 explosion in Whiting that killed two people.</p></p> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 00:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/explosion-bp-refinery-no-injuries-reported-110719 Life in Northwest Indiana's steel closet http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/life-northwest-indianas-steel-closet-110264 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steel.PNG" style="height: 470px; width: 325px; float: left;" title="" />As Illinois gears up for its first legal same-sex marriages, across the border in Indiana gay marriage is still officially banned.</p><p>Hoosiers say attitudes there are starting to soften, but some workplaces are still more closeted than others.</p><p>A new book reveals a little-known community of LGBT steelworkers who punch in every day at Northwest Indiana&rsquo;s huge steel mills.</p><p>&ldquo;Steel Closets&rdquo; by the author <a href="http://www.annebalay.com/" target="_blank">Anne Balay</a>, documents life in the macho environment of the steel mills where LGBT workers face discrimination and are often afraid to report it to the union.</p><p>Balay, a former English professor at Indiana University Northwest in Gary and the University of Illinois at Chicago, spent five years interviewing some 40 current and former steelworkers for her book.</p><p>She and retired lesbian steelworker Jan Gentry joined WBEZ&rsquo;s Michael Puente at our Crown Point bureau.&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 02 Jun 2014 10:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/life-northwest-indianas-steel-closet-110264 From Indiana's icy roads to Sochi's ski slopes http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-icy-roads-sochis-ski-slopes-109666 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Olympic photog 2-way.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Winter Olympics get underway today in Sochi, Russia. For most athletes, the Olympics are the pinnacle of their sport.</p><p>The same could be said for the journalists covering the games. Guy Rhodes lives in Northwest Indiana and is a freelance photographer who works with the <em>Sun-Times</em> Media Group.</p><p>Today he&rsquo;s in Sochi to shoot the games for <em>USA Today</em>. WBEZ&rsquo;s Michael Puente sat down with Rhodes before he left town to hear how he&rsquo;s preparing for the games &mdash; and the threat of terrorism.&nbsp;</p><p>You can follow Guy Rhodes at the Winter Olympics and see all his photos <a href="http://www.guyrhodes.com/blog" target="_blank">on his blog</a>.</p></p> Fri, 07 Feb 2014 16:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-icy-roads-sochis-ski-slopes-109666 Three dead in 40-car pileup in Northwest Indiana http://www.wbez.org/news/three-dead-40-car-pileup-northwest-indiana-109567 <p><p dir="ltr">Crews are clearing away the last semi-truck from a deadly pileup on Interstate 94 near Michigan City, Ind.</p><p dir="ltr">Three people are confirmed dead after the 40-car crash last night. One person is being treated for life-threatening injuries and another 20 were hurt in the accident.</p><p dir="ltr">The crash occurred amid blowing snow that made it very difficult to see.</p><p dir="ltr">Indiana State Police Sergeant Todd Ringle said investigators aren&rsquo;t sure yet what caused the crash, but he said conditions were so bad that even one vehicle slowing down suddenly could have caused the chain reaction pileup.</p><p dir="ltr">Ringle said they hope to reopen the highway sometime this morning, but he couldn&#39;t guess what time that would be.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/pksmid">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 24 Jan 2014 06:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/three-dead-40-car-pileup-northwest-indiana-109567 Snow, severe cold shuts down Northwest Indiana http://www.wbez.org/news/snow-severe-cold-shuts-down-northwest-indiana-109472 <p><p>Northwest Indiana road conditions are improving but the area is far from normal and may be days away from recovering from an arctic blast of super cold temperatures.</p><p>Motorists and truckers had to deal with closed roads and highways for much of Monday, and after briefly reopening, by 5 p.m., INDOT had once again closed I-65 due to hazardous road conditions; I 80/94 remains open.</p><p>Earlier in the day trucker Tom Kenman of Joliet, IL passed the time in the cab of his semi truck listening to music and reading. Kenman works for a contractor that delivers mail for the U.S. Postal Service. He&rsquo;s ready to return home after being stuck at a Speedway gas station near Interstate 65 and 61st Avenue in Merrillville. As of this morning, it didn&rsquo;t look good for Kenman.</p><p>&ldquo;Things were kind of hazardous. About 6 p.m. (Sunday), things were hazardous so I jumped off on Route (U.S.) 30. I do maybe 20, 25 mph. That&rsquo;s it. Even before they shut it down, I decided forget it. I-65 is a mess. I don&rsquo;t know what I&rsquo;m going to do.</p><p>With most restaurants and businesses closed, even a nearby McDonald&rsquo;s, Kenman waited it out slurping Speedway&rsquo;s coffee and munching doughnuts.&nbsp;</p><p>I-65 was closed to all traffic yesterday afternoon because of heavy snow and slippery conditions. Semi trucks were lined up along U.S. 30 in Merrillville, waiting for I-65 to reopen, along with nearby Interstate 80/94.</p><p>Kenman and other truckers finally got some good news in the afternoon, when the Indiana Department of Transportation reopened I-65 around 2 p.m.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Drivers are advised to use extreme caution, take it slow, and travel at their own risk. Like the majority of roads across Northwest Indiana, and the state, conditions are extremely hazardous and non-emergency travel is strongly discouraged,&rdquo; said INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley.</p><p>But the respite on I-65 was short-lived as officials would shut it down again only a few hours later.</p><p>Earlier in the day, Deitchley told WBEZ that some drivers had been driving around protective barriers to keep them off of I-94.</p><p>&ldquo;Those roads are shut down, but people are still driving around the barricades anyway. INDOT and Indiana State Police don&rsquo;t have the manpower right now to physically stop these drivers, but the roads are closed,&rdquo; Deitchley said. &ldquo;They are taking their lives in their own hands, and jeopardizing the emergency personnel who may have to rescue them.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/NWI%20Snow%202.jpg" style="height: 263px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Trucks are lined up near a Speedway gas station. This is not a truck stop but truckers had no where to go Monday because nearby I-65 was closed. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)" />Drivers should expect to continue to encounter slick conditions and blowing and drifting snow both on the main line interstates and ramps.</p><p>In fact, many motorists in Gary were struggling to drive along Broadway, the city&rsquo;s main drag, with cars getting stuck in snowdrifts.</p><p>Local officials had declared a state of emergency for Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties during Sunday&rsquo;s heavy snow storm.</p><p>Indiana Gov. Mike Pence ordered the Indiana National Guard to help stuck motorists along the highway.</p><p>Much of the state is dealing with heavy snow and severe temperatures but Pence acknowledged at a news conference today in Indianapolis that Northwest Indiana may have been hit the hardest.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">That&rsquo;s why the Republican governor was sending more resources to &ldquo;da Region,&rdquo; often divided from the rest of the state because of political and cultural differences.</div><p>&ldquo;That (Northwest Indiana) is an area of the state, particularly with lake-effect snow, that is no stranger to severe weather events,&rdquo; Pence said, &ldquo;but we&rsquo;re moving resources into the region to recognize that the combination of heavy snow and brutally cold temperatures and wind gusts represents a real public safety hazard.&rdquo;</p><p>Early Monday, even with warnings by police to stay off the roads, some had no choice but to head to work.</p><p>Hammond resident Gus Lopez said driving to his job at ArcelorMittal Steel in neighboring East Chicago felt odd.</p><p>&ldquo;It was really desolate out. Hardly anyone out driving,&rdquo; Lopez told WBEZ. &ldquo;It reminded me of my time in North Dakota, where this type of weather and this type of conditions is not unusual at all for folks up there, that far north.</p><p>And this winter at least, &quot;da Region&quot; is starting to feel more like North Dakota than Northwestern Indiana.</p><p>Most schools in Northwest Indiana will be closed Tuesday but government offices are expected to reopen.</p><p>The Indiana General Assembly is also expected to open its session down in Indianapolis, a day later than originally scheduled.</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ NWI Reporter Michael Puente on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews" target="_blank">@MikePuenteNews</a>. </em></p></p> Mon, 06 Jan 2014 19:10:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/snow-severe-cold-shuts-down-northwest-indiana-109472 Northwest Indiana approves Illiana Tollway http://www.wbez.org/news/northwest-indiana-approves-illiana-tollway-109359 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Illiana Vote .jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Northwest Indiana planning officials on Thursday approved moving forward on the Illiana Tollway, a 47-mile, $1.5 billion expressway project that officials in Illinois and Indiana want to build in the far southern reaches of the Chicago metro area.</p><p>Because the roadway will connect the two states, it needed approvals from governmental bodies in both. The project is a joint venture between the Illinois and Indiana departments of Transportation.</p><p>Officials say the tollway will be paid for by private dollars and federal funds.</p><p>The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) approved adding the Illiana Tollway to its Go To 2040 master plan in October, but not before considerable debate and opposition.</p><p>Those opposed, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said the highway is just too far from densely developed areas to have any significant impact on traffic or economic development.</p><p>Proponents say the Iliana will help alleviate congestion on existing highways, such at Interstate 80/94, by providing an alternate east-west route from I-55 near Wilmington in Illinois&rsquo; Will County to I-65 near Indiana city of Lowell.</p><p>Once CMAP approved the Illiana, it was expected approvals in Northwest Indiana would be a breeze. The proposal did pass overwhelmingly Thursday at the meeting of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC).</p><p>But over the past few weeks, it did draw louder opposing voices than had been anticipated.</p><p>Residents of Lowell strongly objected to the tollway, contending &nbsp;it will destroy existing neighborhoods and cut through farmland.</p><p>Hammond, Ind., Mayor Tom McDermott, Jr., unsuccessfully pressed the board to hold off on today&rsquo;s vote. A voting member of NIRPC, McDermott said more information was needed before the 53-member body made up of elected officials from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties could vote on the matter.</p><p>He also said he believes the highway would do much to divert investment from Hammond, his struggling blue-collar city adjacent to Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;It is what it is. There are a lot of people who are proud of their vote. I&rsquo;m not proud right now,&rdquo; McDermott said late Thursday morning after the session at Woodland Park in Portage, Ind. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s no question that it&rsquo;s going to be detrimental to Northwest Indiana. The policy of INDOT [the Indiana Department of Transportation] and the state of Indiana is ignore the problems up north and invest down south.&rdquo;</p><p>But Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, whose city is struggling with disinvestment and high unemployment on a level greater than neighboring Hammond, supports building the tollway.</p><p>She says her city needs to think regionally, something she contends previous mayors avoided.</p><p>&ldquo;It creates economic development opportunities for the region and, in so doing, the citizens of Gary will have an opportunity to benefit from that,&rdquo; Freeman-Wilson said.</p><p>Freeman-Wilson responded to critics who contend that the Illiana will boost the creation of a proposed third major airport for Chicago near Peotone, Ill., in the southern part of Will County and near the route designed for the new highway.</p><p>She says Peotone is no threat to the Gary Chicago International Airport in her city. &ldquo;Is someone going to leave Northwest Indiana and go to an airport in Peotone? The answer has to be no,&rdquo; Freeman-Wilson said.</p><p>McDermott had objected to the &ldquo;weighted&rdquo; vote process, because it gave more influence to the city of Gary. He said Hammond should have had the most votes because it is the largest city in Northwest Indiana, with Gary coming in second by a few hundred residents based on the 2010 census. But the vote was based on population numbers from the 2000 census, when Gary was the largest city.</p><p>McDermott&rsquo;s concern became a moot point, though, because the outcome was so overwhelmingly in favor of the Illiana. After the vote, Freeman-Wilson and other proponents shook hands with union members who will benefit from jobs constructing the tollway.</p><p>Construction could start as soon as 2015, although it &nbsp;is several years away from completion. But congratulatory words arrived from both near and far from supporters.</p><p>&quot;I believe roads mean jobs, and today&#39;s vote on the Illiana Corridor Project brings us one step closer to more jobs for Northwestern Indiana. I am grateful to the members of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission for their vote in favor of this important project, which will bring jobs and economic growth to northwestern Indiana and throughout the state,&rdquo; Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence stated in a written statement. &ldquo;The innovative funding for this project will bring new investment dollars into the state transportation system and allow the Indiana Department of Transportation to make further infrastructure investments that will benefit the region for generations to come.&rdquo;</p><p>Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, his Illinois&rsquo; counterpart, offered his support.</p><p>&ldquo;The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission&rsquo;s vote today is a victory for jobs and economic development in both Indiana and Illinois,&rdquo; Quinn stated. &ldquo;The Illiana Expressway will greatly improve transportation throughout the region, bring thousands of jobs, reduce congestion, and improve safety, job accessibility and air quality. I salute the Indiana officials who continue to partner with us to make the Illiana a reality.&rdquo;</p><p>U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, described the project as critically important.</p><p>&ldquo;This will stimulate new economic activity and job opportunities in northwest Indiana. Given the fiscal constraints our nation is facing in Washington, the Illiana Expressway is a forward-looking solution that leverages innovative private sector funding sources,&rdquo; Coats said in a written statement.</p><p>For many, today&rsquo;s vote continues a dream of seeing the Illiana become a reality at last. It was first proposed by Chicago&rsquo;s great planner Daniel Burnham a century ago.</p><p>Follow WBEZ Reporter Michael Puente on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.</p></p> Thu, 12 Dec 2013 17:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/northwest-indiana-approves-illiana-tollway-109359