Gas prices rise, Indiana plans more roads

$3.85 a gallon as of 4/5/2011
$3.85 a gallon as of 4/5/2011

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:

Sidewalk: 1

Complete Streets: 7 (there is a short section that basically says it is up to local governing bodies)

Light Rail: 1

Streetcar: 0

Bicycle: 19

Highway: 110

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:

Economic Development

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.

What about this picture motivates lawmakers to want to create more of it?
What about this picture motivates lawmakers to want to create more of it?

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.

Comments 11

  • People are concerned about $4/gal gas, but driving habits haven’t really changed much. I’ve been doing some thinking about what happens at $10 or $20 or $50/gal gas?

    When I get to that level of fuel prices some interesting things happen: What happens to all this road? What happens to the interstates? How do people get around? Where do people live?

    I suppose roads turn into carless bike ways, the interstate would be a nice rail bed for HSR, people move closer to work and walk/bike around.

    Of course these are the positives and I’m sure there will be many negatives as well.

  • I beg for $50 gas…please, please, please force change upon these people or bleed them dry. I’m okay either way. Let’s just be finished with the wealth transfer so we can get on with the death and desctruction to follow.

    John Connor are you out there?

  • Nice series of posts high-lighting the incompetance of INDOT outside of highway construction.

    When petroleum gas prices get above $5 at the pump and inching up toward $10, you’ll see a massive overhaul of automobiles to natural gas and hybrid technology. Natural gas is very abundant in the United States with good distribution to much of the country. It will start with semi-trucks and eventually move to passenger cars. It’s still a carbon emitting fuel and there is an environmentally concerning controversey about certain techniques to extract it from shale, but I think the economics of energy demand in the US will lean toward this in the coming decades.

  • Interesting how they are parsing their language here. See:

    “Both nationally and within Indiana, the average annual number of miles that vehicles travel, specifically trucks will continue to grow.”

    The truth is, VMT growth has been declining for three decades, growing around 3% per year in the 1970’s but only about 1% per year in the 1990’s and flattening out in the last decade.

    VMT appears to have peaked between 2004 and 2007 in different parts of the country and then started to trend down. Nationally, it rose a little in 2010.

    But read what they are saying carefully. The reason average VMT per vehicle is rising is probably because the fleet is considerably older now, and many vehicles have been scrapped. Fewer vehicles = higher average VMT per vehicle.

    Happy Motoring!

  • I wrote my comments in their form, everyone else should do the same. Don’t be afraid to put your name and address down, be loud and be proud! We’re the public, it’s time to start commenting.

  • Deleted John Doe’s inflammatory remarks and subsequent replies. We aim for a civil conversation on our blog. And if you’re going to flame, at least use a real e-mail address. Stand behind your posts.

  • Well, $4 gas is just around the corner with 5 being the norm in a few years. I’m very concerned about how we can even think about plowing through for a new 69 and a second 465 loop around Indy?!?!@$$?!??!@?#??? Has anyone driven around Houston before? If not, I urge you to!! Do people really think this economy is going to bounce back to the 90’s? Also, do people think this economy will be supplied by another American Auto Industry? This will be a huge war, regardless.

  • Wow, I just got back from Houston. It is rediculous. I was navigating highways like they were local streets. The amount of pavement there is beyond me. The stretch of road i stayed on was like US 36 through Avon plus the Casleton area on steroids!

  • Something else to consider about Houston is that their interchanges are not only numerous, but how nice to they look? I mean, hating on cars aside, they are nice looking structures compared to what we see here.
    Think of what could have been invested in transit for what they spend on freeways there.

  • Although I am not opposed to mass transit, I don’t trust the government to be a good steward of my money as evidenced by their many boondoggles caused by their greed and need for power. There is no way to finance such a project without raising taxes. As it is, America is bankrupt, or haven’t you noticed that? Essentially we cannot pay the obligations we currently have on the books.

    Between FICA, state taxes, county taxes, and federal taxes, 40% of my pay goes missing. I feel far more raped by my government than I do gas prices.

    The gas price increase was planned by the elites. Lindsey Williams was on and the Alex Jones show beginning last fall to warn of the plan to run the price of oil up to $150+ per barrel this year. All of this man’s warnings come to pass. Williams was the oil execs chaplain for decades and he sometimes sits in on their meetings.

    Until we see transparency and accountability with government officials, and a judicial body that punishes those who abuse the public trust, we should not take on projects of this scope, for it is simply another public project disaster waiting to happen.

    The easiest way to cut your fuel cost in half is to car pool.

    Want to eliminate your gasoline costs altogether? Then ride your bike to work like I do.

    But please do not ask me to hand over another cent to this thoroughly corrupt government.

  • Th is information really helped me, I am sharing with a few friends.

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