EDITORIAL: Transit question is ‘how,’ not ‘if’

On Nov. 19, Gov. Mitch Daniels and officials in southwestern Indiana celebrated the opening of the first section of what will eventually be a $3 billion extension of Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Evansville.

Four days earlier, mass transit advocates held a rally here to kick off Indy Connect Now, their latest attempt to convince state legislators that voters in Marion and Hamilton counties should be allowed to decide whether to fund creation of a $1.3 billion bus and light rail system in central Indiana.

We’re not opposed to the I-69 extension. And we agree with Gov. Mitch Daniels, who remarked at the celebration that the money spent on the new road is an investment that will bring jobs, hope and safety to those who live along the new stretch of road.

We hope the same can be said some day about an investment in our transit system, which is one of the worst in the United States but could one day bring jobs, hope and safety to residents of central Indiana.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Westfield Mayor Andy Cook, Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear and various corporate leaders are among those who have studied transit and recognize its potential.

They understand that public transportation can connect people to jobs that are difficult to fill and bring employment and independence to those for whom transportation is an obstacle. Advocates understand that transit can serve as a magnet for development in older neighborhoods—converting those areas from liabilities into assets. And they know the region is in a better competitive position economically if it can offer more than one transportation option.

Now it’s a matter of getting legislators, some of whom have checked out of the discussion because it doesn’t directly affect their constituents, to take the issue seriously. Rural voters might not ride transit—which is why they aren’t being asked to pay for it—but they have a stake in a Hoosier economy that relies on a strong Indianapolis region.

We’re encouraged that State Rep. Jerry Torr of Carmel has agreed to sign on as a sponsor of the bill in the 2013 session and that other legislators have pledged to give transit a fair hearing. It gives us hope that transit won’t fall victim to political games this time around, as it did last year when it was intentionally pulled into the emotionally charged right-to-work issue.

Honest people can disagree on what form transit should take, how it should be paid for initially, and how it should sustain itself in the long run, but it’s irresponsible and unacceptable to ignore the issue.

A region of 1.7 million people needs an alternative to car transportation. We’re counting on our new Legislature, with the support of a new governor, to debate the most responsible way to provide it.•


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