In April of this year, Urban Indy put together a list of questions for the Republican and Democrat candidates for Mayor in the 2011 election here in Indianapolis. Our questions are more than you would see in the usual media sources and are focused on issues that our readers find important. Topics such as transit, neighborhood development, environment, education, food and jobs were all given focused consideration. The Q & A below is how Republican candidate, and incumbent Greg Ballard, answered. For his campagn website, please click here.
Q: How do you envision purposing RebuildIndy funds in coming years to invest in the neighborhoods of Indianapolis?
A: We must make Indianapolis the type of city where families want to live, businesses want to create jobs and neighborhoods can thrive. When I came to office in 2008, there was no plan in place to tackle the problem of crumbling infrastructure throughout Indianapolis.
In 2011 already, through our RebuildIndy program, $142 million is being invested in repairing our roads, bridges, and sidewalks. This is a sharp contrast to previous years when caring for the basic needs of our neighborhoods was a casualty of budget cuts. In previous years, the City spent only $10-$15 million a year in resurfacing and repaired 2-3 bridges annually. This year alone, construction has begun on 27 bridges.
We are developing RebuildIndy into a multi-year program and working hard to leverage the dollars we have in order to turn it into an even larger program that can be sustained for many years to come. The utility transfer has resulted in over $400 million dollars for us to invest in infrastructure; we plan to leverage that with state and federal dollars in order to address as much of our critical infrastructure need as possible.
Q: Would you be willing to support options that allow neighborhoods to levy taxes on themselves to invest in specific infrastructure projects? (ie: sidewalks, transit stops, bike trails, etc)
A: The City is currently making massive infrastructure improvements through the $400 million RebuildIndy program funded by the water and wastewater utility transfer. These improvements will address many of the issues our neighborhoods are facing.
Neighborhoods do have resources that can be used for special infrastructure projects. State statute, for example, allows for economic improvement districts (EID). If a majority of the property owners in a neighborhood want to pool their money for special purposes, they can elect to create an EID.
I support neighborhood self-sufficiency. If a neighborhood wants to create an EID to fund the installation of an urban garden, create a special memorial, complete façade work, or repair sidewalks, that is a decision the neighborhood can make locally. My office will be happy to work with them and continue to make RebuildIndy improvements in neighborhoods across Marion County.
Q: How important is it to invest in redeveloping areas such as the Lafayette Square neighborhood and what level of commitment to changing the built form to create a friendly space should the city take upon itself?
A: The success of what is planned for the Lafayette Square neighborhood is due in large part to the strong partnership between the Lafayette Square Coalition and the City. This partnership enabled the community to have significant feedback on the planned improvements. As this work moves forward, the City will continue to work closely with the community group to be sure the project reflects community priorities.
Redeveloping areas like these are critical to strengthening our neighborhoods and growing our city. The City must continue to work with neighborhood and community groups to create spaces such as these all over Indianapolis.
Q: Do you support changes to zoning codes to reduce parking requirements, increase options for mixed use, and create a more dense urban core? (ie: Form Based Codes)
A: Planning is a critical element of growing Indianapolis. We must carefully balance the needs of neighborhoods with the desire to grow businesses. We will continue to use the City’s planning process to identify good opportunities for redevelopment and growth.
Zoning is necessary to protect the minimum standards for development in our City. It protects, for example, against a factory being opened in a residential area. But, beyond the extremes, zoning is generally—and not unfairly—viewed as an overly complicated and time-consuming process. The City’s zoning requirements and processes have not undergone a comprehensive review in decades. As part of my goal to make government more open and easier to work with and to encourage sustainable urban development to make Indianapolis a more livable big city, we will undergo a comprehensive review of zoning and seek to improve the process.
Q: Do you support enforcement of existing penalties for residents who do not shovel their sidewalks of snow in the winter where sidewalks do exist?
A: I believe there are better ways to encourage residents and business owners to shovel their sidewalks. Though the law does allow for this penalty to be enforced, last year we increased awareness of the ordinance and many media outlets helped to notify residents – which achieved a level of success. During snow events, the City must prioritize resources appropriately. Our first goal is to educate and encourage residents to do their part as responsible citizens to shovel walks and make it easier for our pedestrians and school children to travel safely.
Q: Does IndyConnect sufficiently address the issues of investing in the city core versus transferring investment to the suburban areas?
A: I initiated Indy Connect to bring together public and private voices in the critical planning of a regional mass transit system for our metropolitan area. I believe an economically viable and sustainable regional mass transit system is vital to our continued growth as a region. I am focused on developing a plan that provides new opportunities for development and economic growth to our neighborhoods.
We still need an analysis of the economic impact and benefits, as well as the cost to taxpayers, in order to prepare a proposal to voters for referendum. The legislature is currently considering this and while the economic impact information is completed, we must also consider the funding source. I believe mass transit is important to the future of our city and I will work with the legislature and other organizations to advance a sound proposal.
Q: Are you supportive of more urban based rail projects that address local transportation options for city residents versus the concerns for regional mobility? (ie: light rail, modern streetcars, BRT dedicated guideways, etc)
A: I am generally supportive of more urban based rail projects provided that we allow for public input and can locate funding for these efforts. Mass transit has been discussed in Indianapolis for the past twenty years. There was not, however, much movement to take the idea and make it a reality.
In 2009, I went to the business community to start moving the ball forward. The result is Indy Connect. After twenty years of discussion, there is finally a regional mass transit plan developed by transit experts with public input from over 125 community meetings.
The IndyConnect plan calls for more buses, light rail and BRT. There is no one silver bullet for improving our mass transit system. Solving our transportation challenges will require providing a multitude of transportation options and that is exactly what IndyConnect aims to do.
Q: Should an Indianapolis Mayor champion a cause to reduce local spending on roads and devote more of it to transit?
A: I do not believe we need to choose between infrastructure and other transit options. Our City’s infrastructure has been neglected for so long that our roads are literally crumbling. We have to ensure that our residents are able to use our roads without damaging their cars. IndyGo buses must have roads and streets that are suitable to drive on as well.
There is value, however, in providing additional transportation options. As we resurface roads, bicycle lanes are being added. The goal is to create transportation options so individuals can choose how they would prefer to travel whether by car, foot, bike, bus or rail.
Q: How important is it to employ local workers for local infrastructure? At what point do we look at out of town/state laborers?
A: It is important that the City does all it can to encourage our contractors to hire local workers on our projects. We are asking our contractors to prioritize and work with local organizations for hiring practices.
In addition to encouraging our contractors to hire local workers, we have also worked hard to increase the equality of opportunity throughout our City contract process since I took office in 2008. The amount of work that women-owned businesses have received from the City went from $2 million in 2007 to $44 million in 2010 while work with minority –owned businesses increased from $15 million to $90 million.
Q: What is your point of view on privatization of public assets? (ie: parking meters, utilities, etc)
A: As our record shows, we think privatization can be a great solution in the right circumstances.
The recently completed utilities transfer is a great win-win because it not only depoliticizes the utility, but also has resulted in a tremendous investment in our infrastructure.
The lease of the parking meters is also a solid transaction. Though it may require an adjustment period, the ability to use credit and debit cards in the meters has been met with rave reviews—over 40% of transactions on those new meters are done without cash. That is a clear indication that Indy residents and visitors are embracing this new technology. And with the feedback we received from the public, the City modified the contract with the ParkIndy team to allow us opportunities to get out of the contract if the deal is no longer beneficial to the City. So, done in the right way and with the right terms, these are great ways to leverage our assets.
Q: What is your opinion on “green” infrastructure?
A: When I was first elected, there was no concerted effort in city government to increase sustainability. I created the City’s first Office of Sustainability to explore how we as a City could become more sustainable in an effort to better serve our environment as well as taxpayers by being more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
I firmly believe that green infrastructure must be fully integrated alongside traditional, “gray” infrastructure. The implementation of green infrastructure was overlooked in city government prior to 2008. Since then, we have completed the city’s first-ever sustainable alleys with pervious concrete. We pursue the installation of rain gardens as storm water solutions. We are actively looking for opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure into RebuildIndy projects and are encouraging the private sector to do the same when they are doing development and construction projects.
For the first time ever, the City is proactively seeking opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure. This year, we announced the creation of the Green Checklist. This is a document that is used by our engineering department to evaluate construction and capital projects for
Incorporating sustainable design and green infrastructure into city projects. As a result, we have added permeable pavement, porous concrete, bioswales and rain gardens to several projects.
In 2009, we created the Green Supplemental Document which was designed to provide technical guidance to the engineering and design community for how to build green infrastructure projects our city.
We are not only providing guidance on green infrastructure but we are also providing incentives to build green with the creation of the city’s first-ever green building incentive for green construction. Indianapolis has 39 ENERGY STAR-labeled buildings and has doubled the number of LEED-certified projects. This includes Eskenazi Health (The New Wishard) that is seeking to be not only an outstanding medical facility, but also ranking among the most advanced in the country for energy efficiency and environmental design. Eskenazi Health will seek LEED Silver certification for the new facility.
Additionally, the City is leading by example and has retrofitted over 60 city-county buildings to lower taxpayers’ cost of operating facilities through energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.
Our efforts to incorporate green infrastructure is one of the reasons that we were named the 2010 Green Community of the Year by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.
Q: What is the right mix of “green” vs status quo? (ie: rain gardens, Cultural Trail, pervious concrete, etc)
A: Our current approach of evaluating projects for sustainable solutions and implementing sustainable solutions alongside traditional solutions is working well.
Each project must be evaluated individually to determine if including sustainable solutions is the best course of action. Sometimes sustainable solutions are more costly and as a result, we need to make sure they are implemented in locations where it makes the most sense and can be maintained for the long run.
We are also making it easier for others to build green in this City with the Green Building Incentive that encourages the private sector to incorporate green infrastructure and energy efficiency efforts into their buildings.
Additionally, we have made tremendous strides in becoming a more bicycle friendly city. In 2008, Indianapolis had less than one mile of bike lanes. By the end of 2011, over 60 miles of bicycle lanes will be in place. The League of American Bicyclists designated Indianapolis as a Bicycle Friendly Community in 2010. Bicycling Magazine listed Indianapolis among the top 50 most bike-friendly cities in the country. Indianapolis has come a long way toward becoming a more sustainable city over the last three years, but there is still much work to be done and we will continue to move forward toward Indianapolis becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the Midwest.
Q: How might you support access to green space and recreational activities, especially among underserved communities like young people, seniors and those with limited proximity to parks?
A: Access to green space and recreational activities is an important component of a thriving city. Greenways, trails, bike lanes and the Cultural Trail connect many of our great spaces and parks. I am committed to increasing the number of greenways, trails, and bike lanes across the City to help ensure that more residents have access to these amenities.
RebuildIndy is connecting people to parks and greenspaces with improved infrastructure and connectivity near Indy Parks and will continue to look for those opportunities.
The City has several partnership programs for both indoors and outside activities through leagues and clubs for seniors and youth. One recent example is the Indy Parks partnership with Oasis. Oasis offers a broad range of classes in the arts, humanities, wellness, fitness and travel, as well as volunteer opportunities for seniors. We must continue to explore public-private partnerships to bring opportunities to our residents.
Q: How do you see Indianapolis’ school systems contributing to community redevelopment efforts?
A: I am optimistic about education in Indianapolis. With education reforms that recently passed the state legislature, the expansion of charters schools and a community sense that the status quo is not acceptable, there is a consensus for positive student-focused change.
As I said in my State of the City address, improving our schools plays a crucial role in building an attractive urban environment. Indianapolis needs schools that parents want to move to – not from. That is why I have proposed that we take steps to make Indianapolis the national headquarters for the education reform movement.
Any city that unlocks the secrets to consistently high quality education and graduation rates, combined with strong post-secondary opportunities, will be a magnet for the businesses of the future.
As schools are strengthened, neighborhoods are as well. From this strength, community redevelopment efforts can have a foundation and am impetus to grow.
Indianapolis public, private and public-charter schools are making progress.We have some outstanding public schools in our community, but we also have too many schools that are failing our children. That is why intervention becomes necessary and other options must be available.
The education of our children shapes our future as a city. Our community objective must be to have schools that are among the best performing in the nation. I believe we will get there so long as we start with the premise that each child deserves a student-centered, learning focused environment.
We are thankful for the partnerships with the community that also help to strengthen Indianapolis schools. Goodwill’s Excel Centers provide the opportunity for high school dropouts to go back to school and get a diploma instead of a GED. Kroger has been a tremendous partner with financial support for literacy as well as volunteer hours from their employees.
Relationships such as these help to not only strengthen our schools, but enable us to lay a foundation for community redevelopment through stronger schools.
Q: What, if any, additional efforts would you champion to improve local schools?
A: I have taken a strong leadership role regarding education by advocating for education reforms in the state legislature, expanding the city’s Office of Education Innovation, and increasing the number of Mayor-sponsored charter schools in Indianapolis to provide better options for more Indianapolis parents and students – and enrollment has increased.
Charter schools have seen great success. Nearly 90% of the Mayor-sponsored Charter High School graduates enrolled in 2 or 4-year college programs. A recent Stanford University study found that charter school student performance in Indianapolis outpaced students in traditional public schools in learning gains. We are getting national attention for our success. Last year the Walton family pledged $1.3 million through their family foundation to help develop new community-anchored charter schools in Indianapolis.
In 2010, Indianapolis was the first city in the nation to develop a plan to transition private catholic schools into public charter schools. We launched the Excel Center Charter School to help adults finish high school and it already has a 2,000 person waiting list for admission.I approved the launch of the Damar Charter Academy to specialize in serving students with significant cognitive, behavioral, or developmental challenges.
We are implementing creative solutions for Indianapolis and education. This spring, I was the only mayor invited by the United Way to participate in a national town hall meeting about education moderated by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, sharing ourvision and passion for improving education in Indianapolis.
I successfully lobbied the state legislature to gain the right to petition the state for local oversight of state takeover schools which will allow for more local input. Now, with several Indianapolis Public Schools identified by the Indiana Department of Education as “failing,” our primary focus must be on achieving the best possible results for the students at these specific schools. In 2012, I will petition the General Assembly to integrate local oversight into these schools’ turn around programs.
I recently announced my vision to make Indianapolis the national headquarters for education reform. We are already home to many successful reform-minded organizations and we should welcome more organizations and ideas to help make a positive difference in our children’s education. As part of our proposal, we will also launch a charter school incubator with the goal of nearly doubling the number of charter schools in the city. I also proposed creating charter schools that target high-growth job sectors, like life sciences, so we can prepare students for jobs of the future in areas we know are growing here locally.
Q: What would you do, as mayor, to increase access to high-quality foods throughout our community?
A: The City has provided leadership by encouraging urban gardens and making city owned vacant property available to people who want to grow food. Last November, I announced the goal of creating 50 urban gardens in Center Township alone—and we have done it with over 40 already producing fresh food. This goal arose out of a very clear need in our urban core to eliminate food deserts and provide access to high quality, fresh foods.
While we work to achieve these goals, the City is committed to safety. We are working closely with the Marion County Health Department to have soil tested prior to releasing garden plots from the Land Bank to the community and providing educational information for those using their own land for urban gardening.
We have seen the private sector increasing their involvement in this area as well. A few examples include the Garden on the Go mobile produce truck by IUHealth, gardens in IPS Schools, and the Indy Parks foundation garden on the eastside. The new Eskenazi Health facility will feature a first-of-its-kind sky farm, where they will grow organic foods to offer its patients, visitors and staff healthful diet options.
Additionally, we are working to promote farmers markets where people can buy fresh local produce. There are at least 12 farmers markets throughout Marion County, including two winter markets and 10 that run through the spring, summer and autumn months.
Q: Specifically, what ideas do you have to address “food deserts” and food insecurity in Indianapolis?
A: I believe urban gardens and farmers markets are key solutions to the issue of food deserts. To be successful, we need neighborhoods to work together and we need the City to assist where possible.
As mentioned in the previous question, we have made city owned vacant property available to those who want to grow food. We have partnered with the Purdue Extension of Marion County to educate people on how to grow food. We set a goal to have 50 urban gardens in Center Township and we achieved that goal. Finally, our Office of Sustainability promotes farmers markets and has hosted an “Indy Urban Farming Forum” to aid in those efforts.
Additionally, the City has taken steps to address availability of food through the Indianapolis Food Resource Network (IFRN). IFRN was developed to bring the many charitable organizations working to provide food to those in need together with the goal of having enough food, when and where it is needed, for all who need it. The result is the increased success of projects including Pack the Pantries, Summer Servings (which provides meals to anyone under 18 throughout the summer), and the Gleaners Back Sack Program (which provides groceries for those children who need additional nutritional support over the weekend or when they are out of school for a few days). IFRN hopes to engage more children in these types of programs to support their 2015 goal that no child goes hungry in Indianapolis.
In 2010, Mayor Greg Ballard used bonding capacity against equity in our water/sewer utilities as well as future rate increases to fund a program that is called, Rebuild Indy. The first injection of funds came in to the tune of $55 million. It was used to jumpstart the program and largely includes resurfacing streets, repairing some sidewalks, and constructing a trail on the NW side of Indianapolis by adding a trail from Cold Springs Road to Kessler Boulevard along Michigan Road. A couple of weeks ago, $32 million more in projects were announced. Some bridge reconstruction work is planned for Meridian Street across Fall Creek as well as the Morris Street bridge over the White River on the city’s south side.
Much more work is said to be planned when and if the “sale” of the sewer/water utilities to Citizens energy is approved through the IURC who is currently deliberating on the matter. The announced sum that the city would have to spend on infrastructure (including what has been spent already) would be $425 million.
I have inquired repeatedly to the Mayor’s office about what the rest of the projects would entail and even received some off the record information regarding some specific projects. However, there doesn’t seem to be a clear intent to release all the planned on projects that Rebuild Indy plans on tackling. I’m sure there is political headache at risk for such a move.
However, and what should concern most of us living within Indianapolis urban neighborhoods, is what are planners REALLY going to do with this money to preserve and improve the quality of life for residents? The Mayor’s recent State of the City address pointed out the need to focus on our inner city neighborhoods. The census recently opened our eyes that suburban flight continues unabated in the Indianapolis area except where we have created pedestrian friendly environments. Urban Indy author Greg Meckstroth recently tackled this issue. Although there have been a few projects of noteworthy pedestrian mention such as the Michigan Road trail, the first round of Rebuild Indy projects have largely focused on simply repaving our existing roads, and restriping them in the same fashion despite repeated attempts by not only myself, but those of IndyCOG to improve our bike lane designations downtown. Furthermore, a project in my own neighborhood this summer had a Rebuild Indy sign posted and when the sidewalks were repaired, it could be debated whether or not they were repaired at all. The project aims to add bike lanes however, once the weather warms which will be a welcome addition.
Personally, it concerns me that the status quo of road design is not being examined in the least and we are borrowing money from tomorrow, to simply repair areas that in 5-10 years from now, will suffer similar breakdowns. With Complete Streets type of projects taking place in our city (Meridian/Westfield & 10th Street SB Legacy) and world class projects such as the Cultural Trail in progress, the bar has been raised. As residents, how can we not demand more for our invested dollar?
Perhaps I will be proven wrong and there is a vast plan of adding NEW sidewalks through neighborhoods that don’t currently have any. Perhaps there is another Georgia Street project lurking in the weeds that hasn’t been announced yet. Perhaps our side streets where cars speed through can be calmed so that the city has a fighting chance of attracting families with children to live in the neighborhoods that they lie within. If so, I will drop my criticism and get on board. As it stands though, I fear we are on board to spend a lot of money on projects that have an opportunity to tremendously improve the quality of life for Indianapolis’ residents, but which fail to do so.
A little known or seen part of our every day built envrionment will be the focus of one of the city’s largest infrastructure projects ever in coming years. What is commonly called a “CSO” or “Combined Sewer Overflow” is a structure that was implimented in the late 19th and early 20th century. A single system of buried pipes were used to collect sewage and storm water runoff so that surface pollution was eliminated. At the time, this was thought to be a great improvement over the current systems. However, when the pipes were filled to capacity, there was nowhere for this combination of sewage and storm water to go. Outlets were built into streams and rivers. This lead to what eventually became our prior generation’s realization that this was a poor choice. The graphic below, sourced from wikipedia, demonstrates how the system works.
Fast forward to the present, and we are dealing with what is essentially a problem created by our forefathers. Think about today’s popular rhetoric about sustainability & “green” living and you begin to rapidly draw a correlation that there is a big problem with dumping raw sewage into our rivers. In Indianapolis, our main source of drinking water is drawn from the White River, treated and then sent out to businesses and homes around the region. This is done by two wastewater treatment plants on the south side of Indianapolis. In short, this is a huge problem. So huge that in 1994, the EPA enacted policy to require cities with CSO’s to begin addressing the problem and finding a way of dealing with it. This policy reflects the spirit of the Clean Water Act of the 1970′s.
So how does this apply to Indianapolis? A very detailed account of how we got where we are, can be read here. Within the past decade, the EPA sued Indianapolis to “force” us into coming up with a way to improve the outflow of sewage into a number of regional streams and rivers. The city developed a long term plan for managing this problem. This plan, which was estimated in 2005 dollars to be $1.73 billion, would mitigate the affects of CSO into streams by constructing a system to hold the contents of what currently spills into the rivers and streams. The system that was originally planned to be constructed, would consist of a large tunnel system 200 feet underground that would funnel a number of CSO facilities into it. Additionally a smaller capacity (relatively speaking) system of holding cells located 35 to 70 feet underground and linking the two area sewage treatment plants (basically a conveyence system) would be constructed. This system would contain 24 million gallons. This entire system would hold excess sewage and runoff in the event of a rain storm until either of the two facilities could treat and release the water back into the White River.
Recently, the city announced that through negotiations with the EPA, and a modification of the original plan adopted in 2006, that it would save $740 million to tax payers. The release by the Dept of Justice, details a plan that would eliminate this smaller inter-plant system by making it an extension of the deeper tunnel system as well as extend the large tunnel by 1 mile on it’s north end. By doing this, it will allow the capture of 2 CSO’s that contribute largely to the violations currently happening earlier than originally planned. However, it would push back the planned operation of this portion of the system by a year and some change. The trade off however, greatly expands the capacity of the system and the EPA agreed. The Justice Department claims a savings of $444 million. At this point, the difference between the Dept of Justice figure and the City’s figure is unknown.
The plan as it stands, will be a combination of tunnels that will have a holding capacity of 250 million gallons and be located 200 feet underground. The tunnels themselves will be 18 feet in diameter. The current overflow of 7 billion gallons a year of untreated sewage and storm water will be reduced to 414 million gallons a year. Bidding will conclude for the first section of the tunnel in 2011, which is called the Deep Rock tunnel Connector. The DRTC will begin at the Southport Advance Water Treatment plant and run to the Belmont AWT plant located on Indy’s southside. Four additional tunnels will be dug after this one has been completed. The total system is slated to be operational and compliant to the 2006 decree, by 2025. An additional website detailing the White River Tunnel portion, is located here. The City has a website detailing the system further here.
At this point, some may be saying, why are we spending this much money and enduring sewer rates that will rise to pay for the system? For one, violations will be penalized by hefty financial fines by the EPA if nothing is done. The ethical side of not doing anything also looms. Do we want our children to be drinking sewage laced water? Of course not. This project must be done in some way, shape or form. Our current mayor, Greg Ballard, has taken strides to try and lessen the impact of expected rate increases. His plan to privatize the water and sewer by “selling” it to Citizen’s Energy is a step in the direction. By consolidating operations, a savings can be calculated to rate payers. Initial figures peg savings of 25% compared to initial rate increases. This is one situation where privatization of a public service seems reasonable.
People may also be asking why can’t we better engineer a system that collects and treats storm water naturally? We have started to see small improvements in this area around the city in the way of the Cultural Trail and it’s rain gardens. The recent Ohio Street Rain Garden project and other projects in the city have also addressed the storm water runoff issue. However, the need for action is urgent, and the deep tunnel projects will help to mitigate the environmental destruction currently being caused by our legacy CSO situation.
This is a classic example of doing things the wrong way and putting tomorrow’s generation on the hook for cheap decisions today.
In February of 2010, the city of Indianapolis made an exciting announcement. Mayor Greg Ballard announced that a task force had been formed a year and a half prior to study the long term future of transportation in the Indianapolis area. They coined this marketing blitz, Indyconnect. This wasn’t simply public transportation, this was public transportation, automobile transit, pedestrian and bicycle access as well as issues regarding freight travel on rail and freeway. What followed, was a series of public meetings that engaged the public on the initial plan and asked for input on what the final plan should be.
A long winded analysis of the plan could be undertaken at this point. To save space, and your attention, I will take this opportunity to examine why rail is a reasonable goal for Indianapolis and why the NE Corridor is a poor choice for the first line to be constructed.
Detractors of rail based infrastructure developments will argue first that rail is expensive and that Indianapolis is not dense enough for it. They would also be correct. Rail IS expensive. And Indianapolis when examined at the county level probably isn’t dense enough. Cities across the nation have shown that if not handled responsibly and in a timely manner, construction and implimentation of the operating services can get out of hand which lead to delays and added expense. See: Austin, TX or Norfolk, VA.
All cons being said, there are pockets of Indianapolis that are perfectly suited for rail transit. It is commonly accepted that while rail upgrades do not always (and in most cases don’t) solve automobile congestion problems, what they do, is give options to those who wish to live without a car, or who cannot afford one. Indianapolis is a HUGELY auto dependent city. In the long term, it can be argued that providing choices for people that do not increase our dependance on foreign oil is prudent. It can also be argued that for long term environmental health, that auto-centric thinking should probably be scaled back to reduce greenhouse gases.
There are also a host of other justifications that rail supporters will give from improving health to the expense of automobile based development (ie: parking lots, low density strip malls, suburban sprawl, etc). I could go on for thousands of words citing studies that tell of the large expense of parking lots. The large expense of building and maintaining roadways that serve low density suburban populations, etc…
Analysis of routes
The NE Corridor however, represents an initial step in the wrong direction. To take a que from the Overhead Wire regarding Austin, TX, “What are they thinking??” From a purely political and logical point of view, it initially makes sense to give in and agree that the NE Corridor study area has been beaten to death. People sort of accept that it will go there, and politicians won’t fight this without pressure. There is currently an Environmental Impact Study being undertaken (EIS) that will determine the feasibility of this route, and it’s associated impacts. The expense involved in running rail for 15-25 miles (depending on the end points) will be HUGE. Examining the social point of view, the people living in the burbs have shown by voting (quite literally) with their wallet, that they LIKE buying cars.
The line if built as planned, will travel where CSX freight trains travel in the DT area. Then, it would travel through vacated neighborhoods like Martindale that are starting to see a resurgence of growth thanks to federal intervention. They will travel through SOME dense areas north of here and just when it begins to reach the southern Broad Ripple sphere of influence, the task force has agreed that all day service should stop about 10 blocks south at 38th street.
Conversely, if planners decided that the Washington Street light rail were to be constructed first, immediate impact could be realized. First, the agreed upon route travels through the densest areas that the Indianapolis region has to offer, perfect for rail transit’s target demographic. Even IndyGO rider numbers justify this claim based upon numbers from their #10 route (Washington Street). Additionally and behind closed doors, higher up public figures involved with Indyconnect have agreed that private developers are more interested in the economic development opportunities along both the east and west side proposed Washington Street Light Rail line. Public sentiment also matches the will to extend light rail to the airport.
If planners decided that the Washington Street line offered more merits compared to the NE Corridor and chose to construct that alignment first, the completion of the NE Corridor EIS would not neccesarily mean that construction would need to immediately begin. When the EIS is finished and published, a Record of Decision (ROD) will be written. When this is decreed, it is lasting. There is no shelf life on an ROD.
There are likely to be many battles fought over this issue when the cards are on the table. I know personally, that there are already advocacy groups going against the NE Corridor as the first rail line to be constructed. From an enthusiasts point of view, rail offers some great, and lasting, economic development opportunities as well as long term economic vitality as an attractive amenity. It is seen as progressive and it departs from a long history of automobile centered policy decisions.
Editor’s note: Citizens can debate the merits of how far any of these lines should go and back it up with plenty of data as well. My hope is to keep this discussion to one alignment versus another for now.
If you spend any amount of time on the south side of downtown Indianapolis you may have noticed a large scale project going on. It looks to the casual observer like a bunch of pipes that are suppose to be under the ground, that are routed above ground for the most part along city streets and occasionally buried beneath at street crossings using thick steel plates.
This past weekend, I started at the Lilly campus where the pipes appear to begin and started walking, armed with my camera. What I discovered, was a vast stretch of pipes traversing the streets of downtown’s less dense areas. Namely, where a lot of parking lots and abandoned streets are located. I discovered a pumping station in the ground, but open to the air. There were many things to check out and as I walked, the scope of the project only got bigger. The shear amount of pipe on the ground indicates a large amount of labor was invested to just get these all hooked together. That tells me that this must be a pretty big, and important, project.
The roots of our focus area here should probably start with the Indiananapolis DPW (Department of Public Works). Navigating their website can be as tricky as making your way through a cornfield maze at halloween time. Their site is divided up into many different sub categories classified by the type of work going on. Luckily, they devote a lot of space to sewer and water issues. A topic which has gotten a lot of press in Indy over the last couple years, and will undoubtedly get MUCH hotter, is that of CSO’s or Combined Sewer Overflows. Back when our fore fathers started platting cities, they thought that it would be convenient to combine sewer drainage, and storm water drainage. Today, we see the very reality of what our fore fathers did, making life difficult for us. The federal government has, in recent years, decreed that all cities with CSOs undertake plans to split these utilities into seperate sewer and overflow drainage systems. The obvious point here, is that less raw sewage will end up in our rivers. Indianapolis’ long term plan can be found here.
With this decree came the realization that MASSIVE work (and expense) would be required to do this. In the future, that will require some serious tax hikes for sewer and water users of Marion County. This has also gotten a lot of press lately albeit a bit more politically focused, in the form of Mayor Greg Ballard’s attempt to “sell” the sewer and water utilities to Citizen’s Energy. They claim that future rate increases will be less than they would be under the current operating conditions. That obviously, remains to be seen.
What is going on right now on the southside of downtown, appears to be a comparatively minor piece of the overall picture though. Through the DPW’s website, I was able to view the list of projects from 2009-2013. If you focus on the areas designated by CS-32-005 you will get a sense of the area of focus for this article.
According to the sign on site, this is the Merrill Street Combined SewerRehabilitation portion. According to informal requests to the DPW, they are calling this a sanitary sewer bypass. Upon further sleuthing, I was able to find that this involves “in place curing of pipe liner and manhole rehabilitation”. Also, the work should be finished up by late August to mid-September according to the same inquiry. When this project is complete, expect a much more visually appealing project begin to take shape. UrbanIndy.com will have some information on that in the near future; but for now, take comfort in the fact that the work that is taking place now while ugly in appearance, is being done to make our enviroment a little better for us now, and a LOT better for our children.