Monday, November 08, 2010

Grab Your Wallets, Here Comes A Regional Transportation Authority

The downtown elites have another bright idea. Let's create a new regional transportation authority, use the need for mass transit as the bait, obtain new taxing authority for an unelected, unaccountable authority and raise tens of billions of dollars for a massive mass transit highway spending program. Yes, that's right. This isn't about building a worldclass mass transit system. It's about raising billions to build more lanes for existing highways and to build new highways. Only a few new bus lines will be added and a novelty light rail system that will benefit very few commuters. Here's the pertinent part from the Star's story this morning on this latest push Mayor Greg Ballard will make his number one legislative agenda in the Republican-controlled legislature:

The overall, 25-year transportation plan has a price tag of $10.7 billion. Most of that, about $8 billion in federal funds, would go toward expanding roads and repairing bridges.

The remaining $2.4 billion would be for mass transit.

Residents of the nine-county region would be asked to contribute about $1.2 billion, which Indy Connect officials estimate would be an average of $15 a month per household over 25 years.

No one has decided on a way to collect that money yet, but the prevailing suggestion is that lawmakers approve a public referendum for a sales tax or income tax increase.

As you see, nearly 80% of the money will be used to expand roads and repair bridges. Anyone who has ventured out on the highways surrounding Indianapolis the last few years couldn't help but notice there seems to be no shortage of money for these projects already. Nonetheless, these folks want to create this new regional authority with a new tax supported by either sales or income taxes. Don't be surprised to see new toll lanes added as an additional feature to ensure billions more flow into this regional authority. It will be many years down the road before a light rail train running from Noblesville on the far northeast side will stretch to Franklin on the far southside.
These regional transportation authorities have become big boondoggles everywhere they've been created. The lawyers, government contractors and consultants love them because of all of the money they make off of them, but they inevitably are poorly managed, face continuing solvency issues and are constantly going back to the well for more money. The elected officials put their best pals on the governing authorities but deny responsibility when it comes time to ante up more money to fund them. The people making all of the money off the system are always big contributors though to their re-election campaigns. Unless you want another CIB on a much grander scale, you should contact your legislators and urge them to vote against this proposal.

UPDATE: Fred McCarthy at Indy Tax Dollars has some inciteful comments as usual on this latest proposal:

The map also raised another thought. Is this a "B & B" operation. No, not bed and breakfast. We mean Ballard and Brainard.. There appears to be somewhat excessive emphasis on super bus transit between the Palladium and the Stadium. Is this a bone to our friends up north so they can avoid the increased parking rates Ballard is seeking? "Park at the Palladium and ride to the Stadium." Won’t that make for less economic activity downtown if people can go door-to-door on a plush, rapid bus trip? Back to priorities. Who gets to ride first? The big wheels to the Stadium or the little wheels to work?

We have to admit to getting a smile from the very last paragraph in the story. A quote from the executive director of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, gives us this gem. "But I think once we put the service on the street...(sic)people are going to see it, realize it and understand it."

Reminded us of something we heard recently - "We have to pass this 2,500 page bill to find out what’s in it and then the people will love it."


Unknown said...

I am in favor of rail - it would be a strategic advantage to encourage redevelopment of the urban area. It would encourage density in the urban area instead of sprawl.

That said, the original plan was heavy on roads and light on rail.

This new plan should be dead on arrival.

One solution to the highway problem is to stop building them!
Indianapolis metro area hasn't grown in the number of households much in the last 10 years... it's just gotten more spread out (because it can). When you can't get from Castelton to Downtown in 15 minutes, people will reconsider that new house in the corn field.

The other part of the solution to roads is to increase the gas tax. It hasn't kept up with inflation or the increase in MPG. Dedicated road taxes only pay about half of the cost of roads - meaning they are heavily subsidized (yes, another socialist plot ). Actually charging drivers what the roads cost in a gas tax would discourage the long commutes as well.

Unknown said...

Someone needs to add-up all of the proposed tax and fee increases that are on the table:

1. Water company deal
2. Sewer fixes
3. Transit plan
4. Parking meter increases
5. Liability for Wishard Hospital
6. Liability for proposed development around Lilly.

It's easier to say "yes" when you aren't seeing the entire picture.

Cato said...

You remember that story from a few months ago that Mitch wants to upgrade highways around Indy, toll them, and sell them off to a foreign company.

Mitch runs it this way: he taxes everyone for the road to build it, installs tolls, then sells it off to the foreign company. No taxpayer ever sees the cash back, as the sale proceeds go to the State.

With this Republican Legislature, I'll bet I-69 will be sold in the next two years.

If you're around Louisville, be careful, because Mitch wants to slap tolls on the Kennedy Bridge and the proposed East End bridge.

Roads projects have stalled while Democrats have held the legislature, as the Dems won't go along with his sales.

With the GOP back in power, the sale is on!

guy77money said...

Hey the big contractors have to have work after the Toll Road money runs out! Indiana better hope the electric car is a hit, if not where are all the new jobs going to come from? I think the next junket Ballard should take is start in Iceland, Greece and England. He should sit down and talk to the average person in London and find out how much in taxes they pay. Oh but they do have free health care! This country is headed down that road!

Koz said...

When posting about the "North of South" development and other development projects pushed by the "downtown elites" you cite the city's appalling mass transit system as an example of their misplaced priorities.

So if this is just another scheme by the elites to screw the hard working people of central Indiana, what is your proposal to improve Indy’s mass transit? Please include how it will be paid for and what oversight you’d think would be ideal as I read a lot of valuable criticism in this blog, but not a lot of solutions.

I am a fan of mass transit and would use it more if it would work for me. The article addressed my biggest issue with it: buses that come once an hour. You have to plan to catch a bus as if it was a commuter train in a major city, you can never be spontaneous.

I’m fairly agnostic on what solves it, but I think it is a problem.

Having lived in a major city with a subway before moving back to Indy, I am a fan of rail as well, but I can see the logic behind relying on bus expansion to accomplish a lot of this. The only place in this city where the traffic is really bad is the Northeast side and the rail still exists for this North-South line. The original plans for the East-West line didn’t even make it out to the airport, which is really is needed to make any sense

I’m sure the plan could be improved, but this seems like an “advance” to me. Why don’t you urge people to write with expected improvements instead of a blanket “contact your legislators and urge them to vote against this proposal”

IndyDem said...

Ive had the same concerns. I just got an email stating that the "revised" plan calling for Bus Rapid Transit on Washington Street with the goal of light rail pushed back several decades.
It seems to me this idea would work much better in place of the north south rail.

varangianguard said...

Pretty sure any Ohio River area tolls would have to be charged away from the bridges. The Commonwealth of Kentucky claims the whole river, and I imagine the bridges as well.

It would then appear to be a toll for entering/leaving Indiana. Wouldn't sit well with the Feds or our neighbors to the south.

Downtown Indy said...

When the rail system for Clarian went into operation, it was regularly having problems that took it out of service -- even a fire once as I recall.

Now I have not heard anything about that system in ages, but I wonder if it was just startup bugs or if they continue to have a lot of trouble with it.

All we really need is a sensible bus route/schedule. I am nevetr going to use a bus if it means:

Travelling 2 miles to get to it
Having to go downtown no matter my destination
Waiting close to an hour for a transfer line to take me back to the suburbs
Having only 1 chance at a return ride in a 2 hour window.
Taking 2 hours to get to somelace I can drive to in 20 minutes.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Koz, it's hard to describe this as a mass transit solution when 80% of the money goes to build new highways and bridges. If they need more money for that, then use the tolled lane concept around the I-465 beltway, I-70 and I-69, for example, to generate those additional funds to cover that. Indianapolis has apparently scrapped the most obvious and cheap rail connection--downtown to the airport. The line already exists for most of the route. It would not require an overly burdensome investment, could be leveraged with federal dollars and enjoy ridership that would come close to covering its nut. People forget that when Indianapolis had mass transit throughout the city 100 years ago, it was all privately owned. Presumably, the systems could be operated at a profit. Current law, however, doesn't allow federal dollars to be used to assist with any privately-owned system so local governments' solution is always a government-run answer because that's what the federal government will finance. Maybe the federal incentives need to be changed dramatically to fund more economical choices that don't require as large of government investments in systems that cannot operate anywhere close to cost, let alone a profit.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The elevated light rail system used by Clarian was not designed for a cold weather climate; it was designed for milder climates like Disney World in Orlando. That was one of the reasons they had so many problems with it. I forget how many hundreds of millions of dollars Clarian spent on that system that serves a very small commuter base. It was deliberately designed to discourage the general public from using it even though they were granted public rights of way to construct it. Unfortunately, it was not designed to be incorporated into a broader light rail system to serve the public.

515 West 11th Street said...

The Clarian monorail was a vanity project; this was never intended for general public use. What's even worse is the tracks are an eyesore and a big negative for the residents of the area. It's an example of how this city works.

Jeff Cox said...


Few things you still won't accept:

1. Mass transit makes no sense outside of large, densely packed cities like New York.

2. People here do not want mass transit - translated, "don't want to pay for mass transit" - and won't use it if it's built. Literally everywhere mass transit has been tried outside of a few large, densely packed cities like New York, mass transit has been an expensive and unpopular failure, with Los Angeles being the biggest example.

3. The American people have made up their minds about "sprawl" - they like it. The vast majority have made a conscious decision that they do not want to live in densely packed apartments, but instead houses with yards. And given the choice between mass transit and cars, they prefer cars. Even in New York City the majority drive their cars to work.

Building mass transit in Indianapolis would just be another boondoggle, sucking ever larger amounts if public money for something people don't want and won't use.

TwoDomeTown said...


"You remember that story from a few months ago that Mitch wants to upgrade highways around Indy, toll them, and sell them off to a foreign company."

I don't remember this story. Could you provide a reference please?

AI: The economics of this are clear. If there was a profit to be made, private industry would have built a public transportation system years ago. Instead, they dismantled it as car ownership rose.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Actually TwoDome, GM bought up the private rail providers in the cities, shut them down and replaced them with private bus systems using buses GM manufactured. As government grew, it began providing publicly-financed public transportation systems, which negated the need for the private operators.

Citizen Kane said...

Even some local urban planners call this what it is - a boondoggle - you just won't hear any of them say it in public. Indy is nearly 1/3rd as dense as Detroit - Nearly the same population in 140 square miles as within the approximately 400 square miles of Indy.

If we had or would have the type of density needed for mass transit to even be marginally successful, most of the people advocating for it would flee the city - if they already haven't.

But the real goal is "the same as it ever was" - the transfer of wealth from the many to the few.

Cato said...

Two Dome:

Check out this cite: Would you pay to avoid this? Chris Sikich; Indianapolis Star; Jul 14, 2010; pg. A.1.

"Nor are they devoid of controversy. Because they allow drivers to buy their way out of traffic jams, they have been derisively dubbed "Lexus Lanes" by those who say they create have and have-not commuters."


You are very correct about the car companies buying up and dismantling light rail systems.

Cato said...

Two Dome:

Also visit this page:

TwoDomeTown said...

Yep Cato - I read all those stories when they were printed. I didn't see a word about selling them to a foreign company after they were built. That argument gets a little old after a while don't you think?

AI - are you saying that private industry had a working transportation system and government put it out of business by competing with a tax subsidised service? Sounds about right. That's about to happen in the medical insurance industry.

Cato said...


Foul. You were as disingenuous in your request as you are shallow in your analysis.

As for your analysis of the medical insurance industry, though here off-topic, the medical insurers have been joined at the hip with government for at least three decades, now. The system is crony capitalism which allows profits at public expense, rightly allowing the public to ponder "why not just cut out the middleman?"

An equally revolting example of crony capitalism is automobile insurance, a product for which a public option has been demanded as a matter of right since the day they guaranteed the pretend capitalists an endless flow of customers, at the point of the guns of every traffic cop on the street.

TwoDomeTown said...

Ah Cato, we could debate this all day. I see you could still offer no evidence of Mitch selling toll roads to foreign companies so apparently you just made that up, then accuse me of being disingenuous.

And yes, car insurance rears its head again as a shining example of the public mandate. You know there is no requirement to purchase insurance right? The state simply requires you to provide proof of financial responsibility which includes posting a bond and self-insuring. I could go on about how this responsibility is required to protect other people and driving on public roads is a privilege but you already know that right?

thundermutt said...

ProCynic, there are plenty of houses with yards in Center Township, and many are within walking distance of Washington Street (as well as several of our wonderful city parks).

I live in one of them, and I would most certainly use frequent light rail service on Washington. I would use it to get to work, to events and games and shopping downtown. I might use it for the return leg of a long exercise walk.

Alas, the current iteration of the IndyConnect plan pushes Washington St. rail right close to the end of my life expectancy.

Cato said...


You can certainly hold your head high and say that you're a proud hard-core Republican.

You "driving is a privilege" statists continue to make the GOP less and less attractive. Enjoy last Tuesday's bubble. Knowing that you think that I have merely a privilege to drive on that which I own confirms that your side considers itself feudal lords who bestow periodic grants and permissions on supplicants. I'll take my vote elsewhere, thanks.

As for your comment that "responsibility is required to protect other people," you'll likely ignore that such a premise is collectivist and that collectivism is a core tenet of Republicanism.

That's what the Mitchies are, some noxious form leftism wherein the corporation and the state join forces to provide what the plutocracy believes is the greatest good for the greatest number, but not quite helping the economically maximum number, as profits, of course, must be considered. At bottom, it's not terribly far from the economics of Mussolini fascism. Today, we call it "corporofascism."

Downtown Indy said...

And today the Clarian shuttle broke down again and had to be towed back to a docking point.,0,1197034.story