EDITORIAL: Find a long-term fix

August 31, 2013

Mayor Ballard’s support for the $6 million World Sports Park on the far-east side has become a rallying point for critics of his spending priorities. They say the money would be better spent chipping away at the city’s huge infrastructure needs. We think they’re missing the point on a couple of fronts.

Taking the broad view, the money is insignificant. Sports park or no sports park, the city faces long-term challenges finding enough money to maintain its infrastructure. Then there’s the sports park itself, which is really a practical idea with huge upside potential.

The park’s signature sport, cricket, is unfamiliar to most of us. That makes the mayor’s proposal an easy mark for critics. But the park isn’t just for cricket. Its five multipurpose fields will also accommodate lacrosse, hurling, rugby, Australian rules football, Gaelic football and soccer.

In a city that consistently gets low marks for its inactive populace and lack of park space, upgrading an existing park and introducing us to new sports seems like a sound strategy. The only thing better might be an entirely new park, but that would cost even more.

As for Ballard’s cricket strategy, which includes hosting national events, we don’t have a crystal ball. And neither did the builders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or the architects of the city’s amateur sports strategy. The champions of those initiatives look wise in hindsight. They took risks that paid off. Ballard might find himself in their company if he’s positioning us ahead of the cricket curve. And if the World Sports Park becomes nothing more than a great recreational amenity for residents of Indianapolis, the money spent won’t have been squandered.

The energy devoted to criticizing the park—and defending it—would be better directed toward working together to come up with a long-range plan to fund infrastructure replacement and repair.

The $373 million Rebuild Indy program, funded with proceeds from the sale of the city’s water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy Group in 2010, is winding down and there is plenty to show for it: 858 miles of repaved streets, 53 repaired bridges, 58 miles of bike lanes, and big improvements to crumbling curbs and sidewalks.

Trouble is, there’s still at least $700 million of infrastructure work to be done. Half of that will be paid for according to terms of a three-year plan recently introduced by Ballard. The plan, which has bipartisan support, pools federal and state funds and borrows $135 million against $7 million in state gas-tax revenue. As with Rebuild Indy, the money will be used to improve streets, sidewalks, bridges and parks.

But success is fleeting when it comes to infrastructure. It’s time to think ahead to what happens when the new asphalt cracks and the freshly poured concrete begins to crumble.

Whether through more durable materials or a more disciplined approach to maintenance—or both—the city needs a plan. That’s a conversation that needs to happen no matter which side of the cricket controversy one happens to fall on.•

Send comments on this editorial to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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