While the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels has urged the building of new highways, members of two House committees on Wednesday urged policymakers to make room in their plans for rail lines, buses and other mass transit options.
Failing to seriously consider new and expanded transit systems in Central Indiana and beyond will add to pollution and traffic congestion and eventually harm the state's economy, advocates of mass transit testified before the committees.
Much of the blame fell on the Indiana Department of Transportation -- under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
"Transit does not appear to be one of (INDOT's) priorities at this point," House Transportation Chairwoman Terri J. Austin, D-Anderson, said after the joint Statehouse hearing. "I'm hoping we can work in partnership with INDOT and the federal and local governments to help Indiana put this on our radar screen. Because it's not."
The hearing by the Transportation and Environment committees was meant to give lawmakers broader context as they consider measures to pursue the study of mass transit systems. Senate Bill 105, sponsored by Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, would direct INDOT to study a commuter rail line between Indianapolis and Muncie. A proposal by Austin, House Bill 1659, would create a legislative study committee on transit and instruct INDOT to examine transit options statewide. Austin's committee is expected to vote on Lanane's bill next week. Her bill, however, still awaits a Senate hearing.
Wednesday's meeting, arranged by House Democrats, came as Indiana is beginning a highway-building frenzy.
The Indiana Department of Transportation will spend an estimated $12 billion in the next 10 years on road projects, with little of that going toward mass transit efforts.
The Daniels administration also is promoting private toll bypasses in Central and Northwest Indiana.
Naturally, the Daniels' administration is opposed to anything which won't line the pockets of the road contractors. "Gil Viets, INDOT's chief of staff, said building mass transit lines is risky because of the cost and the challenge of attracting riders." "Most times, the agency concludes that roads and highways are the best way to move people and freight around, he said." "Right now, (roads are) generally the best answer, especially for the state of Indiana," Viets said. Isn't it amazing how much those campaign contributions talk?