EDITORIAL: Senators feed state’s road habit

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The way legislators are treating transportation issues this year speaks volumes about their aspirations for the state.

If current thinking holds up, Indiana—already crisscrossed with roads—will get more roads, wider roads and roads that will beget more roads in the future. The costs are astronomical, in the billions of dollars over the long haul. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, and like-minded legislators say roads will fuel our strong manufacturing and distribution sectors.

You’ll get no argument from us that those sectors are central Indiana’s economic sweet spot. And if manufacturing and warehouse jobs were all we aspired to, Kenley and his crowd would have it right.

But a modern economy—like a sound investment strategy—requires a diversified approach. That’s where the obsession with roads to the exclusion of alternate forms of transportation is misguided.

The Senate passed a budget that would dedicate $200 million a year to expansion of interstates and construction of new ones. On the wish list: additional lanes for interstates 65 and 70; further extension of I-69; and construction of the Indiana Commerce Connector, an interstate wrapping the metro area on the east and south sides that would cost more than $1 billion on its own.

Is there any doubt that, after the ribbon is cut on such a road, the pressure would build to make a complete loop? Senators seem determined to launch the equivalent of building a second I-465 even though their constituents rejected the idea when it was floated back in 2006.

The total cost of such an endeavor would far exceed the labor and materials involved in building the road. A second loop around the city, or even half of one, would feed our bad habit of disinvesting in established areas to chase the shiny and new. Everything new that springs up around the Commerce Connector would require a significant public investment in infrastructure. Meanwhile, the areas that lose investment would struggle to maintain what is left behind.

Instead of creating new disinvestment zones, legislators should show a little interest in reviving the ones we have.

The core of Indianapolis and other parts of the metro area would benefit tremendously from a modern public transportation system. Structured properly, it could connect people with jobs, give neglected urban neighborhoods something to sell, and put Indianapolis on the map among young workers and others who value transit more than cars. We don’t need the finest system money will buy, but we need something better than our worst-in-class bus system.

By now we all know where the Senate stands on that topic. Legislation with broad support everywhere but the Statehouse, it seems, that would have allowed local voters to tax themselves to support transit was gutted by the Senate. The bill offered plenty of flexibility for locals to determine how, or whether, to proceed with what could be a $1.3 billion system. But unless the bill in its original form is revived in conference committee, the subject of transit will be studied, yet again, while legislators steer us down a one-way street.•

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