The Herald Bulletin

Overnight Update

Opinion

February 2, 2013

Viewpoint: Now’s not the time to ease off from transportation plans

Imagine a driver making the final lap in a qualifying attempt for the Indianapolis 500. The racing team has worked hard for this moment, spending hours fine-tuning the engine, running countless miles in practice and making sure they’ve seized every opportunity to prepare for victory.

Everyone’s cheering and applauding as the driver heads down the final stretch. At this point, there’s just one thing for that driver to do: Keep the pedal pushed to the floor and cross the finish line at full speed.

In a way, that’s a good description of the situation we face in the effort to bring improved mass transit to Central Indiana. With a bill being considered in the Indiana General Assembly, we’ve reached a milestone, but we can’t slow down. On the contrary: Now is the time to go full throttle.

The bill introduced in the legislature on Organization Day – HB 1011 – would let you vote in a referendum to decide if transit is funded. It also would lay the groundwork for the process and organization needed to give Central Indiana the kind of public transit system it deserves.

That’s a big step in a process, but it’s certainly not the final victory. In a way, you could say we’ve gotten onto the track for qualifications. To qualify, we’ll need a majority of legislators to support HB 1011. And we need your help in making that happen.

Certainly, the legislators have heard the arguments for improved transit. Residents from across the region have told them they want to get to work, the store, the doctor, the park and more without having to get into their cars. Communities throughout the area want to be better connected to the jobs, amenities, services and each other. Employers want better access to the area’s diffused workforce. Older residents and those who can’t drive or don’t own cars need a reliable transit system that gives them access to the entire area.

Meanwhile, neighborhoods want the economic boost transit can deliver. And a vast number of residents want a public bus system that’s funded adequately so it can offer more routes with shorter wait times. They’re tired of living in a region that the Brookings Institute ranks 73rd in terms of metro-area neighborhoods’ access to transit.

Our elected officials also have heard the economic arguments. They’ve seen data from regions where every dollar invested in transit yielded a $4 to $6 economic return. They’ve heard about the America Public Transportation Association research suggesting that every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased economic activity.

And they’ve heard from individuals. People who failed to get jobs because they couldn’t get to the workplace (the Brooking Institute also revealed that only 22 percent of Indy-area residents can reach their jobs within 90 minutes by transit). People who love riding an express bus to work so they can spend their time relaxing or working instead of driving. People who choose where in the city they live based on transit access, and people who choose not to live in Indy because of the lack of transit options.

The good news is that a plan is in place so that work can begin as soon as the public approves transit funding. Created by Indy Connect, a partnership of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA) and IndyGo, the plan would put more local buses on the streets — meaning reduced wait times and extended hours of service — and add new rapid transit service throughout the region.

To make sure everyone knows about this plan, Indy Connect embarked on a public information campaign that includes TV and radio commercials. At the same time, Indy Connect NOW, a privately funded coalition of elected officials, community and business leaders, civic organizations and citizens, will be working to urge the General Assembly to approve HB 1011.

For transit advocates, this is an exciting time, but we’re still a long way from the finish line. Which, again, means we need your help.

Contact your legislators and let them know you want the opportunity to decide how transit will be funded. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Sign a petition in support of transit by going to www.cirta.us and clicking on “Sign the petition.” Ask your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same, and to contact their elected officials. Finally, ask your employer to join some of the area’s top businesses and organizations in creating a resolution of support at www.cirta.us/pages/resolutions.

In other words, put the pedal to the metal and help us get this effort across the finish line.

Jerry Bridges is director of the Madison County Council of Governments and Madison County commissioners’ appointee to the board of directors of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA).

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