VIEWPOINT: The high cost of traffic Band-Aids

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According to the article titled “Traffic Transformation?” in the Oct. 15 IBJ, the Indiana Department of Transportation is working on a roughly $600 million plan to relieve traffic congestion in the area of interstates 465 and 69.

Hold on a second! What is really broken
here? I contend little to nothing. Yes, roadways need maintenance and upkeep, but these roadways operate just fine. Because this area is congested at the morning and evening rush hour, the perception exists that these roads are broken and need more than $600 million of our resources to fix. (I challenge you to drive slightly off peak. You will find that you move through the area nicely.) Are we, as a community, this gullible? Are we willing to spend more than half a billion dollars on an already working roadway system in the name of rush-hour convenience?

Our state Department of Transportation is, in effect, subsidizing a way of living that most of the nation is seeing as unsustainable. Financially, because of infrastructure costs and energy costs. Environmentally, because of land and natural resource costs. Socially, because of lost time and driving stress. Physically, because of spending too much time sitting down. As an exercise, I wonder what would happen if you paid
$6,000 to the 100,000 drivers or so in this area in return for them to drive at staggered times. Would there still be this major “roadway problem?”

If you live in an already developed or recently redeveloped area, I would be asking INDOT, “Where is my cash in return for not needing this major project to subsidize where I chose to live?” Or, “When will you install transit (you are the Department of Transportation after all, not just the Department of Cars) in our city for my convenience, just like you are improving this roadway for the convenience of more and more sprawling development?

What scares me most is that the first transit line being discussed for the Indianapolis region is one that will go to this exact same area (Fishers, Noblesville, etc.). So, with this INDOT 465-69 plan, we are going to spend $600 million to make it easier for people to drive in this area. Then, with transit, we will spend equal to that or more and ask them then to get into a train instead of taking that easy drive we just created?

It’s about missions and priorities. At the highest level, INDOT wants to make Indianapolis “America’s warehouse” for goods and packages by creating an amaz
ing interstate system for trucking and logistics. Expanding roadways allows both trucks (with precious packages=economic development=jobs) and inconvenienced commuters to have somewhat improved traffic flow (no guarantee of this, by the way).

But many people know we could reduce that commuter demand on roadways (and allow trucks to be on less congested, existing highways) if we could get those resources to make livable, sustainable, vibrant communities with transit (which will attract jobs as well, believe it or not). Wouldn’t it be great if INDOT cared not just about warehouses for packages and reducing inconvenience for those who purchased real estate in an unsustainable location, but also about the long-term future of our communities?

At the end of the day, we’re going to spend $600 million for a road system we already have in place, when we could have spent it on transportation that is sustainable, creative and marketable to others, and gives people options for the future.

Sure will be a bummer when this project is done.

Thies is president of Eden Collaborative, a land-use planning and development consulting firm in Indianapolis.

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