Recently, our regional transit authority CIRTA tweeted about Indiana’s Long Range Transportation Plan being open for public comment. The document that controls long term planning of the state’s transportation projects is a fiscally constrained plan of what our officials are moving forward with. I don’t intend to offer a full analysis here but a quick view at a glance. Additionally, the window for public comment will be closing soon, so I urge anyone who is interested in commenting on our transportation future to get your say in ASAP. The link can be accessed here. Urban Indy founder Kevin Kastner wrote about this yesterday and offered some quick insight into the plan. I intend to dig a little bit deeper to fully expose the plan for what it is not.
I gave the LRTP a look and as you would expect from a state DOT, this document is based on a road building model. I say that, but cannot be totally sure (sarcasm) because there are no fiscal details regarding the projects that are adopted into plan. This would suggest that no projects are adopted into plan. Now, I have reviewed a lot of transportation documents and everything worth a hoot has at LEAST one table with some financial figures. Even the Indianapolis MPO’s LRTP has pages upon pages of it. Where is this in the INDOT document? According to page 8:
W h a t H a p p e n e d t o t h e P r o j e c t s ? Given the new format, the 2010-2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan will not list specific projects. The new plan will link to INDOT’s 5-year construction program currently under development. The 5-year program will coordinate and synchronize multiple projects, thereby minimizing disruptions to the traveling public. The ill provide updated annually and w construction program will be guidance to the development of various INDOT transportation improvement projects. Selected improvements will be optimized and prioritized based on statewide needs analysis and available funding
Basically, what this statement tells me is that the reams of paper or keystrokes put into this document are lip service. The document itself is cleanly laid out and includes some pretty pictures, but tangible information on just what INDOT is doing seems to be left at the door.
The next task I performed went as follows. I pressed ctrl+f (yes I used a PC) and searched for the following terms and got the corresponding number of results:
Complete Streets: 7 (there is a short section that basically says it is up to local governing bodies)
Light Rail: 1
Additionally, this is how INDOT classifies High Speed Rail (note the typos, they aren’t mine):
“High speed rail, also known as commuter light-rail transportation, is
a system that generally travels in access between 90 miles per hour,
which makes competitive with air and/or auto on a door to door
basis for trips of 100 to 600 miles.
Frankly, this scares the hell out of me. Anyone paying only a little bit of attention knows that light-rail is in no way, shape or form, comparable to HSR. Sure, they are a rail based transportation device, but that is really where the similarities stop. The plan seems to pay a lot of lip service to talking about multi-modal options but never really lays out any sort of text that indicates there is any robust planning effort. If this is how alternative transportation is planned at the state level, I know plenty of uneducated people who could offer a better analysis of HSR than what INDOT attempts to do. Furthermore, one of the guiding principals is listed early on in the document:
INDOT will improve upon Indiana’s transportation system to: reduce the cost of moving people, goods, and freight; connect Indiana with regional, national, and international markets; provide communities with an edge in competing for jobs and business locations; and connect people with economic opportunities.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but if you, the reader, are the target audience you likely live in the Indianapolis region. With gasoline prices on the rise and maintaining a vehicle staying expensive, this plan isn’t promoting anything that is reducing the cost of moving myself around the region. Additionally, with the proposed state budget cuts to mass transit, this will get even more difficult to do without an automobile and while I appreciate riding a bike, our region is far too sprawled for me to depend soley on pedals to get everywhere I, or my family, or anyone else I know, in a timely fashion. Furthermore, Indianapolis is in fierce competition with other cities around the country to attract top notch talent. Does this plan really provide communities with an edge in competing for jobs when gasoline prices are going up, and public transit funding is being cut; and road expansion seems to be the only agenda being advanced? The plan even explores our aging population and examines a shift in transportation demands. This almost gave me pause until I read:
Both nationally and within Indiana, the average annual number of miles that vehicles travel, specifically trucks will continue to grow. People will drive longer distances and make more trips. Travel is expected to grow at a much faster rate than capacity improvements to the transportation system. This differential is contributing to increased traffic congestion.
This strikes me as a key opportunity to excel. Here, Indiana has a chance to affect what it is actaually predicting to happen. Will people drive longer distances? Yes. If we continue to provide incentives that make it cheaper to live in suburbia. At some point, we will reach an inflection point where so much of our personal budgets are spent on purchasing & maintaining our automobiles that to afford an acceptable place of dwelling, we will either need to rent an apartment in or close to the city or look for affordable housing in greenfield developments aka suburbia.
I decided that before I offer final judgement, I should review the 5 year plan which the LRTP refers to as the new guiding document for projects. This is listed as the Appendices and can be viewed directly here on the same page as the LRTP. It is not actually listed as the 5 year plan from the LRTP page, so I suppose I was lucky to find it. That said, the front page of the 5 year plan wastes no time setting the tone for the reading of the document:
The INDOT Major Moves Program can be accessed at the following weblink:
Following this are pages upon pages of plans, corridor studies and a cursory mention of the NE Corridor project taking place locally of which only the 2004 study is mentioned. Nothing of the current Indyconnect proposal or other associated transit improvement. There is a small mention of a suburban transportation study done of the central Indiana region which gave major attention to the outer suburban region surrounding Indianapolis. The major finding of that study was:
This study also assessed the regional impact of an outer beltway on the local and regional transportation system and on development patterns. The study ensured meaningful public involvement by initially convening a group of regional constituents and then developed smaller task force groups to deal with specific areas and issues. INDOT and the Indianapolis MPO conducted this cooperative study of the central Indiana region. The study was completed in October 2005. The study recommendations are being incorporated into future versions of the INDOT Long Range Transportation Plan.
For you locals who may remember, this was actually announced as the “Commerce Connector” and was put on the back burner a few years back. However, in coordination with this spring’s legislative session, SB473 which would give the governor sole responsibility of granting approval to create a toll road of such stature, is moving forward. This tells me that nothing is changing. Indiana is and continues to be a fraternity for road builders. The current legislative session has created a fantastic opportunity for conservatives to push a road centered planning and policy overhaul that further pushes the state into the 1950’s era thinking of road building and sprawl based land use policy.
If you care one iota about urban land development and transportation, you will contact INDOT and voice your opinion by using the links provided here. Public meetings occur until April 13th after which I assume the public comment period will end. So, we do not have long to rally the call for alternative modes of transportation.