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Transportation takes many forms

October 11, 2014

Perhaps the Indiana Department of Transportation should be renamed the Indiana Department of Highways and Bridges.

That might please members of a blue-ribbon panel that recently recommended to Gov. Mike Pence that revenue generated by transportation-related taxes and fees be off limits to transit and other “non-road” programs. The 23-member panel, stacked with representatives from the logistics and construction industries, showed little appetite for the state spending money on anything that doesn’t involve cars and trucks.

That might be good for the business interests that dominated the panel, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right path for a state where non-road spending is more of a priority for residents and local governments than for the state’s leaders.

Communities large and small are struggling to fund projects that wouldn’t pass muster with the blue-ribbon panel but that local governments increasingly view as essential to remaining competitive with their Midwestern peers.

Franklin, for example, was awarded $1.8 million in federal funds by INDOT to fund bike and pedestrian improvements along a major thoroughfare. Would such projects be feasible if INDOT clamped down on funding for non-road improvements? Indianapolis, of course, has been struggling for years to plan and fund improvements to its worst-in-class public transportation system, which local officials increasingly see as an impediment to economic development efforts.

INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning told IBJ the panel report won’t change the department’s funding allocation policies, but he was clearly supportive of the panel’s suggestions.

We understand the desire to ensure the money is available to maintain roads and improve bridges and other current transportation infrastructure that already exists. But securing funding for such needs doesn’t legitimize acting as if other modes of transportation don’t exist.

In INDOT’s very own Complete Streets policy, which hasn’t been widely distributed, the department touts creating “a balanced transportation system” that would, among other things, “allow people to replace motor vehicle trips with multiple transportation options.” It goes on to say that “integrating sidewalks, bike facilities, transit amenities and/or safe crossings into the initial design of a project spares the expense and complications of later retrofits.”

That sounds like a state department of transportation that recognizes the car is no longer king, especially among millennials, whose economic influence is growing. Now all we need is leadership with a mind-set to match.

Taking a balanced approach to transportation funding doesn’t mean letting roads and bridges crumble. That would be irresponsible. But it’s also irresponsible to starve other forms of transportation the funding they need.

Across the country, states, cities and towns are investing in transportation options that serve all their residents. To begin to catch up, Indiana will have to do more than pay lip service to the importance of a balanced transportation system.•
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