Quality of life--that hard-to-define, "I know it when I see it" component of community--is fundamental to economic development. The question we must ask is, what kind of infrastructure do we need to support this component?
Charlotte, N.C., asked this question more than a decade ago. Regional leaders cast a bold vision that included mixeduse villages and walkable neighborhoods and, as a part of the process, did indeed ask, what infrastructure enables this kind of community development?
Charlotte's answer is mass transit. The region's leaders invested in expanded bus and light-rail initiatives. By 2007, the voters voiced their agreement by passing, on referendum, a 1 cent sales tax increase dedicated to transit. This supported the opening of one of the most successful light-rail lines in the country, the construction of three bus-transfer facilities and the development of bus routes and expanded capacity (more than 60 percent of the transit sales tax revenue is invested in buses in Charlotte). It also allowed the area to leverage a 50/50 grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration to build an additional 30-plus miles of re gional rail transit.
The result? By November 2007, Charlotte was in the middle of a renaissance of development and reinvestment integrating art, architecture and land use. More than $250 million of private investment in compact, mixed-use and transit-oriented development has occurred along Charlotte's first light-rail line, which happens to connect its fastest-growing suburban area to its strong downtown while also serving the diverse neighborhoods in between.
From urban neighborhoods and brownfields to traditional sprawling suburbs, a change in thinking has sparked growth in Charlotte, a community that bears a striking resemblance to Indianapolis.
While folks in our community debate whether central Indiana should make such an investment, we miss out on the 3,140 permanent jobs created for every $10 million spent on rail transit in the United States.
The state of our local and national economy is too precarious to ignore such opportunities. By acting now, we can make gains in the national livability race as our nation emerges from this downturn.
Please contact your Indiana state senator and let him or her know that you support HB 1660's regional transit district funding legislation, as passed by the Indiana House. As I write this, the bill awaits Senate action--action that could decide whether central Indiana continues to wait for mass transit or gets the chance to enjoy the kind of growth experienced by our counterparts in Charlotte.