May 18, 2017-Region un-elected leaders who push for regional consolidation are, ironically, praising a bill signed by President Trump last week. Senate Bill 469, signed by Present Trump last week, puts to rest efforts by the Obama Administration to consolidate regional planning in urban areas. The US Department of Transportation issued a regulation in December, 2016 which would have required the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) to merge with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner stated “We’re relieved to have this rule finally put behind us, as the rule would have been burdensome and impractical.” CMAP Executive Director Joseph Szabo stated “Now law, S. 496 repeals the overly burdensome U.S. DOT ruling on ‘Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordination and Planning Area Reform,’ and ensures that CMAP and our neighboring MPOs in northwest Indiana and southwestern Wisconsin can maintain the integrity of our regional planning processes” according to a release from Senator Duckworth.
Despite the universal praise for the ruling, the One Region folks continue to push making Northwest Indiana an extension of the greater Chicago Metropolitan area. In a series of opinion pieces, the Times of Northwest Indiana has pushed the idea that regionalization is the key to population growth in the region. NIPSCO’s Don Babcock, Congressman Peter Visclosky, and former Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority Chair Leigh Morris have all written articles explaining that the region will prosper from consolidation with Chicago.
While praising the independence of NIRPC, the One Region alphabet soup of partners continues to hire the friends and cronies of former Mayor Richard Daley. Just last week the Town of Munster announced they hired a planning director from the Village of Homewood, Illinois. NICTD, the operator of the South Shore rail line, announced last month that they hired close Daley ally Cassandra Francis to deal with real estate acquisitions. Francis was formerly the head of the failed Olympic bid under Mayor Daley. She then became chair of Friends of the Parks in Chicago and it was reported that she was moving out of the country when she left that position. During her tenure at Friends of the Parks, Francis successfully opposed the Speilberg Museum Project. The entire Slager/Visclosky Regional Transformation Plan is being overseen by close Daley ally and contractor Doug Farr. Farr is an architect who has worked on many transit oriented development projects throughout the Chicago area and who was hired by the RDA to push transit oriented development in Northwest Indiana. The City of Gary Department of Redevelopment, Indiana last year entered into a 30 year public/private partnership with Richard Daley’s MAIACO, LLC. It is unclear at this point what role MAIACO, LLC will play in the transit oriented development proposals in the City of Gary.
According to Senator Tammy Duckworth, “The DOT rule that Duckworth’s bipartisan legislation would repeal, called the “MPO Coordination and Planning Area Reform” rule, was finalized in December 2016, despite widespread opposition from transportation stakeholders throughout the country. It required certain MPOs to merge with their counterparts in other states if they are designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as sharing an urban area. If it had been allowed to go forward, the rule would have forced Illinois’s 16 MPOs to merge with MPOs in Wisconsin and Indiana, and empowered the Governors of Wisconsin and Indiana to potentially block critical transportation improvement projects in Illinois. The DOT estimated that rescinding the MPO rule will save taxpayers an estimated $86.3 million annually, which translates into savings of $431.5 million over 5 years, and $863 million over 10 years.”
Senator Duckworth’s bipartisan legislation, which passed Congress in record time, was endorsed by the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).