Over the last few years, the voters have been called on to decide a number of important issues – whether to do away with township assessors, to put property tax caps in the state constitution, and to allow school districts to exceed those same caps on a case by case basis.
Mass transit legislation being considered by Indiana’s House Ways and Means Committee empowers voters in Marion and Hamilton Counties to similarly make their own decision on an expanded, multi-modal transit system (based on the proposal advanced by CICP’s Central Indiana Transit Task Force). The bill doesn’t ask lawmakers to support a tax increase or even declare their support for transit. It simply allows local officials (many of whom support the plan) to put the question before the voters this fall in a referendum.
Most surveys suggest widespread support for such a ballot question, for a number of reasons:
The current IndyGo system, underfunded and limited to Marion County, doesn’t meet the needs of our citizens or our economy. Nearly 20% of households in the region have either no car to get to work or have multiple workers in the household but only one vehicle. For these Hoosiers, access to job opportunities is limited to IndyGo routes, and a simple cross-town commute can take hours with multiple transfers.
Our mass transit plan recognizes that employment centers have shifted across the region. By doubling bus service in Marion County and extending it to Hamilton County, it helps employees and employers by connecting the two. But the economic benefits of transit go beyond helping Hoosiers get to work.
The construction and operation of a multi-modal system with light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) routes will create a significant number of jobs. Mass transit has also been shown to attract private investment and build a broader tax base, as commercial and residential development grows along the transit lines. In Cleveland, more than $4 billion in private development is planned or in progress along the Euclid Avenue light rail corridor. In Dallas, another $4.2 billion in business and new housing sprang up around the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system between 1999 and 2007.
We see the same kind of potential to revitalize the neighborhoods along the proposed northeast corridor rail line, and along the BRT lines that may transition to light rail as demand and finances allow.
Finally, mass transit is the kind of ‘quality of life’ infrastructure that helps the Indianapolis region compete for talent and business opportunities. The availability of a young educated workforce is a critical driver of economic development. The convenience of effective public transportation and the attraction of ‘walkable’ neighborhoods served by transit helps lure these workers.
The arguments for regional transit are numerous and compelling. But the current debate at the Statehouse isn’t really about the merits of mass transit itself – it’s about trusting the elected officials and voters of Marion and Hamilton Counties to look at both sides of the issue and make their own choice.