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Transporting Change

Indiana   ·   Public Transportation   ·   Indiana Daily Student: Indiana University

Indiana law requires approval at the state level for any voter referendum in the counties that comprise Indianapolis regarding transit programs.

If the city and the six counties that make it up want to raise their own taxes to fund their own transportation infrastructure, they have to get state approval first. What seems like a parliamentary rubber stamp has serious real-world effects on the transportation options available to residents of our capital city.

At the end of March, Gov. Mike Pence quietly signed a bill that gave the six counties of Indianapolis the right to hold a referendum about a new transportation package.

"Our capital city is a world-class destination and needs a world-class transit system," Pence said as he signed a bill his legislature had gutted of any potential to actually deliver on that world-class transit system.

The original bill proposed a corporate tax to cover about a tenth of the cost of a system that would include light rail extensively connecting the entire city to its suburbs.

This kind of infrastructure will be fundamental to the growth of a city of almost 1.5 million people during the coming decades.

Unfortunately, it's also precisely the kind of infrastructure the city will lack. The state legislature removed the corporate tax from the bill and added a complete ban on light rail before allowing it to go to referendum.

The new plan will have to rely on bus rapid transit, a system which creates dedicated right-of-way lanes for specific types of buses in cities, in place of rail. Bus rapid transit is certainly cheaper, but also has severe effects for livability like widening already-existing, heavily-traveled roads.

The first phase of the plan will span ten years and focus on creating transportation ties between Marion and Hamilton counties - the core of the city and the county with its most affluent suburbs.

This effectively means the other four counties will pay increased taxes for 10 years to create better travel options for some of the state's, and the country's, richest individuals.

It's clear to me that the plan as it stands is flawed, and these flaws largely extend from control of the agenda and referendum rights by the state as opposed to the city.

The federal government also tends to distribute funds for transportation to states as opposed to counties, localities or municipalities.

State governments are notoriously hostile to transportation spending, even when individuals in the areas it would serve want and often desperately need it.

Incentives for states are different than those faced by municipal governments. Those alternative incentive structures are important in many decisions. This isn't one of them.

Creating world-class destination cities doesn't mean token transportation initiatives designed to limit the burden on businesses and make the commute for the rich marginally more comfortable.

It means real, actionable, useful transportation initiatives that don't confine the city to the trajectory of its history for future development.

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