Mass Transit and Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: It's time to jump on the transit train

December 17, 2011

An improved transit system would do so much to improve the economy—and quality of life—in central Indiana that it’s hard to know where to begin in praising the $1.3 billion plan rolled out Dec. 13.

For starters, the investments proposed by the Central Indiana Transit Task Force would provide a lifeline for residents of the region who are struggling most. Because the IndyGo bus system is perennially underfunded, many otherwise employable Hoosiers lack the means to get where the jobs are—at least not without sapping hours from their day using bus routes built around downtown transfers.

Equally important: It offers a solution to the highway gridlock that seems to get ever worse, especially on the northeast side, despite massive investments to add lanes and build capacity.

And finally, the proposal would help unify the region, slowing the sprawl that has led to disconnected suburban communities and long commutes.

The issues are deeply intertwined with economic development and with protecting the environment, a cause we all should embrace as concerns grow over climate change and our reliance on foreign oil. Hoosiers love their cars, but the leading regions of the 21st century won’t be those that just keep adding roads to accommodate the glut of gas-chugging vehicles. Not regions that want to attract and retain the best jobs, anyway. Quality transit systems, including rail, increasingly are an amenity top employers expect.

The plan—explained in full this week in a story on page three—calls for doubling bus service in Marion County, launching express bus service between Marion and Hamilton counties and in four corridors of Indianapolis, and launching a 22-mile rail line between Noblesville and Union Station.

The plan isn’t without shortcomings. We’d favor something even more ambitious. And we would have preferred to see a broader funding mechanism, such as a state sales tax. Instead, the plan calls for increases in Hamilton and Marion county income taxes. Backers will seek approval in the upcoming legislative session to hold ballot referendums in the counties next November.

But we recognize the political realities. Mass transit isn’t an easy sell among many Hoosiers, and those who are most likely to support it are those who see the greatest need. Clearly, those transit believers are concentrated in Marion County, where fewer residents have their own transportation, and Hamilton, where highway bottlenecks are worst.

And, after seeing various groups study mass transit for years and years, we’re thrilled that momentum is finally building for a concrete plan. It has our support. We urge you to let your state senator and representative know it has yours as well.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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