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Forums Seeking Public Views on Transit

Central Indiana residents are invited to a series of public forums on the region’s transportation future and how to pay for it.

The forums could lead to a phased-in, multi-billion dollar multimodal transportation system recommended by the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, depending on public appetite for the necessary taxes, estimated at $10-$15 per household per month.

“This is (just) the first draft,” Task Force co-chairman Al Hubbard said while introducing the Task Force recommendations last month. “It’s really critical the public be engaged with this.”

AARP Indiana supports broad discussion of mobility options, consistent with its Livable Communities initiative, and encourages members to attend at least one public forum.

To ensure public engagement, an organization called IndyConnect has scheduled 25 forums in the nine-county region, with more to come as public interest warrants.

IndyConnect consists of regional planning and transportation agencies that encouraged the Task Force report and public involvement in next steps.

According to the report, central Indiana’s highway-dependent transportation system is hobbling mobility, economic development and air quality in the nine-county region around Indianapolis.

Symptoms include heightened traffic congestion, especially on I-465 and I-69; the weakest bus system among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country; and continued status as a nonattainment area for ground-level ozone, much of which is generated by vehicle exhaust.

The business-led Task Force is recommending a 25-year multimodal response based on three platforms: Significant expansion of the IndyGo bus system; additional highway construction that includes new, tolled express lanes; and light- and commuter-rail systems connecting the central city and suburbs.

Total costs would be high – more than $9 billion over 25 years – but less than the long-range economic losses associated with the status quo, according to the Task Force.

The report also calculates a significantly higher return on investment from an expansive multimodal system compared to highway-only construction.

New highways, however, could be funded with current revenues (federal and state gasoline taxes), while the proposed multimodal system would require additional new taxes.

The report calls for county-by-county voter referendums on any proposed financing mechanisms, with tax levels based on each county’s economic benefit.

Voters could consider any tax hikes as early as 2011, although the Indiana General Assembly might first have to pass enabling legislation, depending on the financing method involved.

As proposed by the Task Force, IndyConnect and area political leaders, no votes should occur until residents of all nine counties have had ample opportunity to comment on the plan and possible financing.

“This will be the year for a discussion,” Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said, adding, “transit and economic development go hand in hand.”

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