Actually, it is called, The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions, but that was far too long of a title to put for the post.
However, the first meeting of the committee was on August 23rd and consisted of 23 members of the Indiana House & Senate. The topics of discussion were far ranging with municipal officials and industry experts called on to testify. Ed Soliday lead the hearing and began with opening remarks about the unstable condition of funding at the Federal level while highlighting the need for officials at the state level to examine, and if necessary, enact new policy to combat a shrinking revenue stream of federal transportation funding.
You can read about the entire meeting in the minutes located here (when they are posted), but I thought that I would bring some critical analysis to bare because it could be a while before they are available.
The first official to speak was Michael Cline of INDOT. He spent a lot of time discussing the condition of roadways in Indiana, the state of Major Moves funding and the associated projects that have been funded with it, I-69 and also tackled bridges. Of particular note, was in the Q&A portion following Cline’s testimony where Representative Ed Delaney asked if there was a way of integrating “light rail” (as he termed it) with the freeway improvements associated with I-69 from Bloomington to Indianapolis. Cline replied that he did not have the information but would be happy to investigate. For those not keeping score, the entire section of I-69 from Bloomington to Indianapolis has yet to be funded and sources for funding it are unknown at this point in time. It was refreshing to hear a state representative pressing an INDOT official on public transit in the face of an unfunded freeway project.
The other testimony that really disturbed me was from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Cam Carter,
Vice President of Economic Development, gave testimony and highlighted what we already know to be true; that being the shrinking pot of funding for roadways. However, he let loose the Chamber’s views on how they think existing funding collected from the gasoline tax should be used. They feel that this should be used totally for roadway construction and upkeep with transit, bicycles and pedestrians receiving no funding from the pot of funds. This goes counter to the Indianapolis Chamber which has been a vocal advocate of transit spending in the Central Indiana region. Are they of the same opinion when it comes to sharing vs. dedicated? It is hard to say, but given the harsh manner in which the Indiana Chamber proclaimed their views, I cannot imagine they are cut from the same mold. I could be wrong about this though.
Conexus gave testimony about freight shipment and asked whether it was worth a truck only lane on I-70 across the state.
Dennis Faulkenberg, President, APPIAN gave testimony in favor of roadways and emphasized their stance on the need for more roadway funding and perhaps even a 3rd lane to all freeways to handle freight capacity through the state. He spent plenty of time highlighting that Indiana is a donor state in that we send more money in federal transportation taxes than we receive; so there is a big need to preserve what we have and if possible, generate more.
The afternoon session was devoted to the Indiana MPO and the Indianapolis MPO. Sandi Seanor of the state MPO, pointed out the shortfall in existing funding while noting that any cuts in funding at the federal level would further add to the stock of poor road & bridge repair. She noted that at existing levels, counties are being forced to allow county roads to return to gravel instead of being able to afford to pave them or chip and seal.
Wrapping up the session was Indianapolis MPO Executive Director Lori Miser. She spent a lot of time talking about the state of existing funding shortfalls in the Central Indiana region in regards to the long term transportation plan, while making a nice presentation to the panel regarding Indyconnect. Thomas Wyss complimented the Indianapolis region on it’s transit plan and associated outreach efforts over the past two years. Lori pointed out the need for a balanced transportation system that includes roads, transit, bicycling & pedestrian infrastructure and noted that Indianapolis is, “out of balance.” I was happy to hear Lori pushing transit in the Indianapolis region.
The session wrapped up after miser’s testimony and announced that the next session would be attended by Congressman Larry Buschon (Rep, District 8 ) as well as AASHTO. This tells me that once again, panel members will be subjected to a large amount of roadway lobbying.
In conclusion, the first session of this study was a volatile one with people from all modes asking for money and making valid cases for why existing buckets of funding are insufficient to cover the needs being demanded. It reminded me of the heavy road lobbying that occurred when Congressman Mica was here in February on his tour seeking input on the Federal surface transportation bill, an event Urban Indy was also there to cover. It will be interesting to see where this goes when the study wraps up and offers it’s final recommendations. Will transit get a share of funding or equal footing from this panel? Additionally, I am hopeful that this panel’s existence does not hinder efforts in the upcoming session to obtain a referendum for transit funding for Indyconnect as well as other regional transit efforts.
As part of what appears to be an outreach effort on the part of INDOT, they are planning 3 statewide open houses to gather public input and comment on the development of a statewide rail plan. The outreach at it’s core is serving as their commitment to soliciting feedback from the public on what we think freight and passenger rail should look like in years to come across our state. In 2009, the current rail plan was adopted and had been commissioned 2 years prior. After reviewing input from statewide MPOs and invested stakeholders from private companies, to railroads to even property developers, the current plan was put into place.
In regards to passenger rail, which is really what we concern ourselves with here at Urban Indy, only lip service was paid; Amtrak and South Shore service was defined and some statistics offered. The Midwest HSR Network was touched upon as was commuter rail from Muncie to Bloomington via Indianapolis. No recommendations were offered on how to move forward, nor were any priorities listed in regards to passenger rail.
This is where we get a chance to affect the future.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, input from the public should help to shape a longer term plan by assigning priorities based upon our input and other external factors which will largely be affected by economic development concerns. I have pasted the news release below:
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is soliciting public participation and involvement in development of an updated Indiana State Rail Plan. Surveys are being sent to railroads, businesses and other groups that depend upon rail transportation. INDOT also wants to hear from rail users and other public stakeholders about their vision for the future of freight and passenger rail in Indiana.
INDOT is hosting three Rail Planning Open Houses between June 1 and June 7 in areas that generate the state’s highest volumes of freight and/or passenger rail traffic. Brief formal presentations will be given at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The remaining time during the open houses will be informal, and citizens are invited to attend at any time to speak with members of INDOT’s Rail Office one-on-one and fill out a paper survey. For those unable to attend any of the three open houses across the state, the public is encouraged to fill out the survey using Internet-connected computers and devices at http://indot.IN.gov/3499.htm.
- 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, June 1, 2011
INDOT’s Vincennes District Office, 3650 South U.S. Highway 41, Vincennes, Ind.
- 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, June 2, 2011
INDOT’s Indianapolis Traffic Management Center, 8620 East 21st Street, Indianapolis, Ind.
- 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday, June 7, 2011
INDOT’s LaPorte District Office, 315 East Boyd Blvd, LaPorte, Ind.
States applying for rail funding must have an approved State Rail Plan under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act. The Indiana State Rail Plan will inventory all rail lines in the state, identify infrastructure issues, analyze the role rail plays within a multimodal environment and discuss public financing issues. A draft will be available for public review this fall. The 2009 Indiana Rail Plan is available for review and download at http://indot.IN.gov/3065.htm.
In addition to rail planning and policy development, INDOT administers federal and state rail funding. Citizens that have questions regarding the three Rail Planning Open Houses or need special assistance should contact Mike McGathey with INDOT’s Rail Office directly at (317) 232-4786; mmcgathey@indot.IN.gov; or 100 N. Senate Avenue, Room ICGN 955, Indianapolis, IN 46204.
As you can see above, June 2nd is the only opportunity that Indianapolis area residents will get a chance to appear at an open house. However, there is an online survey that can be filled out to express your opinions as well. Don’t worry, it is not multiple choice, you can express your opinion however you deem appropriate. I urge you, our readers, to take this opportunity to show up in person or at the very least, to fill out a form and submit it with your thoughts.
This is a rare chance to give input on intercity passenger rail to INDOT.
Recently, our regional transit authority CIRTA tweeted about Indiana’s Long Range Transportation Plan being open for public comment. The document that controls long term planning of the state’s transportation projects is a fiscally constrained plan of what our officials are moving forward with. I don’t intend to offer a full analysis here but a quick view at a glance. Additionally, the window for public comment will be closing soon, so I urge anyone who is interested in commenting on our transportation future to get your say in ASAP. The link can be accessed here. Urban Indy founder Kevin Kastner wrote about this yesterday and offered some quick insight into the plan. I intend to dig a little bit deeper to fully expose the plan for what it is not.
I gave the LRTP a look and as you would expect from a state DOT, this document is based on a road building model. I say that, but cannot be totally sure (sarcasm) because there are no fiscal details regarding the projects that are adopted into plan. This would suggest that no projects are adopted into plan. Now, I have reviewed a lot of transportation documents and everything worth a hoot has at LEAST one table with some financial figures. Even the Indianapolis MPO’s LRTP has pages upon pages of it. Where is this in the INDOT document? According to page 8:
W h a t H a p p e n e d t o t h e P r o j e c t s ? Given the new format, the 2010-2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan will not list specific projects. The new plan will link to INDOT’s 5-year construction program currently under development. The 5-year program will coordinate and synchronize multiple projects, thereby minimizing disruptions to the traveling public. The ill provide updated annually and w construction program will be guidance to the development of various INDOT transportation improvement projects. Selected improvements will be optimized and prioritized based on statewide needs analysis and available funding
Basically, what this statement tells me is that the reams of paper or keystrokes put into this document are lip service. The document itself is cleanly laid out and includes some pretty pictures, but tangible information on just what INDOT is doing seems to be left at the door.
The next task I performed went as follows. I pressed ctrl+f (yes I used a PC) and searched for the following terms and got the corresponding number of results:
Complete Streets: 7 (there is a short section that basically says it is up to local governing bodies)
Light Rail: 1
Additionally, this is how INDOT classifies High Speed Rail (note the typos, they aren’t mine):
“High speed rail, also known as commuter light-rail transportation, is
a system that generally travels in access between 90 miles per hour,
which makes competitive with air and/or auto on a door to door
basis for trips of 100 to 600 miles.
Frankly, this scares the hell out of me. Anyone paying only a little bit of attention knows that light-rail is in no way, shape or form, comparable to HSR. Sure, they are a rail based transportation device, but that is really where the similarities stop. The plan seems to pay a lot of lip service to talking about multi-modal options but never really lays out any sort of text that indicates there is any robust planning effort. If this is how alternative transportation is planned at the state level, I know plenty of uneducated people who could offer a better analysis of HSR than what INDOT attempts to do. Furthermore, one of the guiding principals is listed early on in the document:
INDOT will improve upon Indiana’s transportation system to: reduce the cost of moving people, goods, and freight; connect Indiana with regional, national, and international markets; provide communities with an edge in competing for jobs and business locations; and connect people with economic opportunities.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but if you, the reader, are the target audience you likely live in the Indianapolis region. With gasoline prices on the rise and maintaining a vehicle staying expensive, this plan isn’t promoting anything that is reducing the cost of moving myself around the region. Additionally, with the proposed state budget cuts to mass transit, this will get even more difficult to do without an automobile and while I appreciate riding a bike, our region is far too sprawled for me to depend soley on pedals to get everywhere I, or my family, or anyone else I know, in a timely fashion. Furthermore, Indianapolis is in fierce competition with other cities around the country to attract top notch talent. Does this plan really provide communities with an edge in competing for jobs when gasoline prices are going up, and public transit funding is being cut; and road expansion seems to be the only agenda being advanced? The plan even explores our aging population and examines a shift in transportation demands. This almost gave me pause until I read:
Both nationally and within Indiana, the average annual number of miles that vehicles travel, specifically trucks will continue to grow. People will drive longer distances and make more trips. Travel is expected to grow at a much faster rate than capacity improvements to the transportation system. This differential is contributing to increased traffic congestion.
This strikes me as a key opportunity to excel. Here, Indiana has a chance to affect what it is actaually predicting to happen. Will people drive longer distances? Yes. If we continue to provide incentives that make it cheaper to live in suburbia. At some point, we will reach an inflection point where so much of our personal budgets are spent on purchasing & maintaining our automobiles that to afford an acceptable place of dwelling, we will either need to rent an apartment in or close to the city or look for affordable housing in greenfield developments aka suburbia.
I decided that before I offer final judgement, I should review the 5 year plan which the LRTP refers to as the new guiding document for projects. This is listed as the Appendices and can be viewed directly here on the same page as the LRTP. It is not actually listed as the 5 year plan from the LRTP page, so I suppose I was lucky to find it. That said, the front page of the 5 year plan wastes no time setting the tone for the reading of the document:
The INDOT Major Moves Program can be accessed at the following weblink:
Following this are pages upon pages of plans, corridor studies and a cursory mention of the NE Corridor project taking place locally of which only the 2004 study is mentioned. Nothing of the current Indyconnect proposal or other associated transit improvement. There is a small mention of a suburban transportation study done of the central Indiana region which gave major attention to the outer suburban region surrounding Indianapolis. The major finding of that study was:
This study also assessed the regional impact of an outer beltway on the local and regional transportation system and on development patterns. The study ensured meaningful public involvement by initially convening a group of regional constituents and then developed smaller task force groups to deal with specific areas and issues. INDOT and the Indianapolis MPO conducted this cooperative study of the central Indiana region. The study was completed in October 2005. The study recommendations are being incorporated into future versions of the INDOT Long Range Transportation Plan.
For you locals who may remember, this was actually announced as the “Commerce Connector” and was put on the back burner a few years back. However, in coordination with this spring’s legislative session, SB473 which would give the governor sole responsibility of granting approval to create a toll road of such stature, is moving forward. This tells me that nothing is changing. Indiana is and continues to be a fraternity for road builders. The current legislative session has created a fantastic opportunity for conservatives to push a road centered planning and policy overhaul that further pushes the state into the 1950′s era thinking of road building and sprawl based land use policy.
If you care one iota about urban land development and transportation, you will contact INDOT and voice your opinion by using the links provided here. Public meetings occur until April 13th after which I assume the public comment period will end. So, we do not have long to rally the call for alternative modes of transportation.