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Munster Town Council urged to proceed with Ridge Road 'diet' despite hospital's concerns

NIRPC Active Transportation Planner Mitch Barloga speaks to the Munster Town Council on March 18.
Michael Gallenberger
/
Lakeshore Public Media
NIRPC Active Transportation Planner Mitch Barloga speaks to the Munster Town Council on March 18.

A proposal to put part of Ridge Road on a "diet" has drawn concern in recent years, but the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's active transportation planner is urging the town of Munster not to back out now.

"It'll stop people from cutting through this community at high speed, even if the Borman is backed up," Mitch Barloga recently told the Munster Town Council. "We want this to be a place of destination and comfort for bicycle and pedestrians to make this a downtown a place of pride."

Back in 2022, Munster got a $17.1 million federal RAISE grant to convert Ridge Road into a "complete street." That would reduce the number of traffic lanes, while also adding a separate path for bikes and pedestrians, on a stretch of road that saw 600 crashes between 2016 and 2020. Town officials felt it would complement the new West Lake Corridor station, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg touted the anticipated safety improvements during a visit to the Region last year.

But Ridge Road became a campaign issue during last year's town council race. A study commissioned by Community Healthcare System raised concerns that the design could slow down ambulances and lead to longer lines when the West Lake Corridor reactivates the railroad crossing.

Barloga refuted those claims during a recent council meeting. He argued that the level of traffic is ideal for a three-lane roadway.

"Calumet Avenue needs to stay five lanes. We get that," Barloga said. "But Ridge Road is right in that sweet spot for the reduction."

He said there were many opportunities for public comment before the grant was awarded, and if it didn't meet federal standards, the federal government wouldn't have awarded the $17.1 million. "Trying to tell them now at this stage, 'We're going to take the core issue of the entire project and modify it,' will put this grant in serious jeopardy, I assure you of that," Barloga told council members.

Meanwhile, Munster continues planning for some local street projects this year.

The town has applied for a state Community Crossings Matching Grant to re-pave Highland Place and Meadow Lane between Ridge Road Road and Broadmoor Avenue, Linden Avenue from Fisher Street to Park Drive, and Independence Drive from White Oak Avenue to Washington Circle.

Council member Chuck Gardiner said he'd like the town to consider including traffic calming measures in the design, especially along Linden. "That seems to reduce speed better than speed limit signs and things along that nature," Gardiner said during a recent redevelopment commission meeting.

The redevelopment commission agreed to hire SEH to do engineering work for those projects for a cost of up to $89,200. The Community Crossings grant awards are expected to be announced soon.