So, are you ready for battle No. 647 and a half of the never-ending political war over expanding transit in Central Indiana?
If not, you’d better get ready. On Monday, the summer committee tasked with studying the issue will meet for the first time.
Given that these are members of the Indiana General Assembly, you can count on the lots of talk about the cost. (That would be about $700 million over 10 years if residents in Marion and Hamilton counties decide to tax themselves.) There also surely will be a lot of discussion about whether we actually need more buses and maybe a train. (Central Indiana isn’t dense enough, so the story goes. We’re not Chicago. People won’t ride buses when they can just climb in their cars and drive from Point A to Point B with ease.)
What I bet you won’t hear are the details of what the Indy Connect transit plan will do for the long-struggling urban core of Indianapolis and, by extension, the future economic viability of the entire region. And that’s a shame . . .
We now have neighborhoods that are full of abandoned houses, crime, streets in desperate need of repair — not to mention a shrinking tax base that has made it almost impossible to pay for everything from police officers to public parks with the specter of a tax hike.
In order for Indianapolis to reverse this trend before the city literally becomes Detroit, we have to find a way to attract more residents and businesses. To create density.
Transit can do that . . .UPDATE: While we're on the subject of mass transit, people should take a hard look at what's going on with the suburban mass transit system in Chicago, Metra, where political corruption within the unelected board and leadership has created a bit of a firestorm recently, leading to the resignations of many of the board's members. Things have been spinning uncontrollably downward since the transit agency's head committed suicide a couple of years ago by throwing himself in front of one of one its trains amidst questions of financial improprieties. From the Chicago Tribune:
Less than 24 hours into his acting chairmanship, Jack Partelow visited Metra headquarters Friday to meet with senior staffers and gauge the mood.
Not surprisingly, he found an agency bruised by an ongoing political scandal that has prompted four Metra board resignations, two state ethics investigations and calls for major reforms.
"Some people are kind of down because the place is being trashed in a way," Partelow said. "But there's an awful lot of good people there. ... We have to keep the railroad running."
But keeping Metra on track is an arduous task these days. The agency — the country's second-largest commuter rail system — finds itself without a clear leader after the ouster of former CEO Alex Clifford in June and Chairman Brad O'Halloran's resignation last week . . .
The agency's critics — and they are legion these days — remain unconvinced.
"There's nobody in charge," said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. "They can't manage right now. Metra has completely gone off the rails."
Metra's problems began in April when Clifford wrote a blistering eight-page memo that accused board members of retaliating against him because he refused to capitulate to patronage demands placed on the agency. The allegations prompted Metra to negotiate a severance package paying him nearly three times his annual salary — a $718,000 settlement that some called "hush money."
Clifford's allegations also sparked a political firestorm that has led to the resignations and investigations centered on his attention-grabbing claims that his job was threatened because he refused Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's requests to award a pay raise to a Madigan political supporter. Madigan has acknowledged seeking the favor for his foot soldier, though he rejected Clifford's claims that there was any political pressure.
During appearances before the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee and the Regional Transportation Authority board, Metra officials denied Clifford's accusations in their entirety. They insisted he leveled patronage claims only after learning his contract might not be renewed and that the severance package was cheaper than the cost of a whistle-blower lawsuit.
O'Halloran and Huggins, who were both criticized in Clifford's memorandum, said they resigned from the board to help Metra move past the scandal. Board members Paul Darley of DuPage County and Mike McCoy of Kane County stepped down even though they were not accused of promoting political back-scratching at the agency.
But no one seems in a rush to fill the resulting vacancies . . .
The region's entire public transit system, with its myriad fiefdoms and political plums, needs to be overhauled, Franks said. He has urged the state to examine how other cities and countries manage their operations and see if any lessons can be gleaned.
"We need to change the system or else the same players will be making the same appointments for the same reasons," Franks said. "If that happens, I guarantee we will be back here shortly with another scandal."