Actually, it is called, The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions, but that was far too long of a title to put for the post.
However, the first meeting of the committee was on August 23rd and consisted of 23 members of the Indiana House & Senate. The topics of discussion were far ranging with municipal officials and industry experts called on to testify. Ed Soliday lead the hearing and began with opening remarks about the unstable condition of funding at the Federal level while highlighting the need for officials at the state level to examine, and if necessary, enact new policy to combat a shrinking revenue stream of federal transportation funding.
You can read about the entire meeting in the minutes located here (when they are posted), but I thought that I would bring some critical analysis to bare because it could be a while before they are available.
The first official to speak was Michael Cline of INDOT. He spent a lot of time discussing the condition of roadways in Indiana, the state of Major Moves funding and the associated projects that have been funded with it, I-69 and also tackled bridges. Of particular note, was in the Q&A portion following Cline’s testimony where Representative Ed Delaney asked if there was a way of integrating “light rail” (as he termed it) with the freeway improvements associated with I-69 from Bloomington to Indianapolis. Cline replied that he did not have the information but would be happy to investigate. For those not keeping score, the entire section of I-69 from Bloomington to Indianapolis has yet to be funded and sources for funding it are unknown at this point in time. It was refreshing to hear a state representative pressing an INDOT official on public transit in the face of an unfunded freeway project.
The other testimony that really disturbed me was from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Cam Carter,
Vice President of Economic Development, gave testimony and highlighted what we already know to be true; that being the shrinking pot of funding for roadways. However, he let loose the Chamber’s views on how they think existing funding collected from the gasoline tax should be used. They feel that this should be used totally for roadway construction and upkeep with transit, bicycles and pedestrians receiving no funding from the pot of funds. This goes counter to the Indianapolis Chamber which has been a vocal advocate of transit spending in the Central Indiana region. Are they of the same opinion when it comes to sharing vs. dedicated? It is hard to say, but given the harsh manner in which the Indiana Chamber proclaimed their views, I cannot imagine they are cut from the same mold. I could be wrong about this though.
Conexus gave testimony about freight shipment and asked whether it was worth a truck only lane on I-70 across the state.
Dennis Faulkenberg, President, APPIAN gave testimony in favor of roadways and emphasized their stance on the need for more roadway funding and perhaps even a 3rd lane to all freeways to handle freight capacity through the state. He spent plenty of time highlighting that Indiana is a donor state in that we send more money in federal transportation taxes than we receive; so there is a big need to preserve what we have and if possible, generate more.
The afternoon session was devoted to the Indiana MPO and the Indianapolis MPO. Sandi Seanor of the state MPO, pointed out the shortfall in existing funding while noting that any cuts in funding at the federal level would further add to the stock of poor road & bridge repair. She noted that at existing levels, counties are being forced to allow county roads to return to gravel instead of being able to afford to pave them or chip and seal.
Wrapping up the session was Indianapolis MPO Executive Director Lori Miser. She spent a lot of time talking about the state of existing funding shortfalls in the Central Indiana region in regards to the long term transportation plan, while making a nice presentation to the panel regarding Indyconnect. Thomas Wyss complimented the Indianapolis region on it’s transit plan and associated outreach efforts over the past two years. Lori pointed out the need for a balanced transportation system that includes roads, transit, bicycling & pedestrian infrastructure and noted that Indianapolis is, “out of balance.” I was happy to hear Lori pushing transit in the Indianapolis region.
The session wrapped up after miser’s testimony and announced that the next session would be attended by Congressman Larry Buschon (Rep, District 8 ) as well as AASHTO. This tells me that once again, panel members will be subjected to a large amount of roadway lobbying.
In conclusion, the first session of this study was a volatile one with people from all modes asking for money and making valid cases for why existing buckets of funding are insufficient to cover the needs being demanded. It reminded me of the heavy road lobbying that occurred when Congressman Mica was here in February on his tour seeking input on the Federal surface transportation bill, an event Urban Indy was also there to cover. It will be interesting to see where this goes when the study wraps up and offers it’s final recommendations. Will transit get a share of funding or equal footing from this panel? Additionally, I am hopeful that this panel’s existence does not hinder efforts in the upcoming session to obtain a referendum for transit funding for Indyconnect as well as other regional transit efforts.