Envision vast parkways where automobile traffic flows smoothly. Where congestion is a thing of the past and commuters can get to work with minimal interruptions from secondary streets. Imagine that you will never be mired in a traffic jam the likes of which north-siders who commute downtown currently experience on a daily basis.
If you are smiling as you envision this future, then you are the target demographic that Indiana GOP Senator Brent Waltz is attempting to reach with his recently proposed “A Comprehensive Transportation Proposal for Central Indiana“. The proposal is a short white paper outlining his refutation of the deeply studied and widely vetted Indy Connect proposal along with a vague 3 step outline for how he sees the future of transportation in Central Indiana.
Waltz’s transportation proposal only vaguely begins with a purpose and need, a statement that all major infrastructure expansions begin with, and jumps into the solutions as follows:
- Step One â€“ Resolving the North Side Traffic Crisis
- Step Two â€“ Bus Rapid Transit
- Step Three â€“ IndyGo Reform
Â Step One – Resolving the North Side Traffic Crisis
In Step One, Waltz attempts to define the problem with north side traffic as a lack of capacity for suburban commuters. He claims that the north side lacks the multitude of commuter arteries which south side commuters currently have;Â State Road 37, Bluff Road, Meridian Street, U.S. 31, Madison Ave, and I 65. He aims to solve this problem not by addressing it with transit, but by providing additional automobile arteries for suburban commuters. Waltz backs this claim with,
“Anyone who has travelled [sic]during rush hour in northern Marion and southern Hamilton Counties knows that the traffic congestion is a serious problem, convincing tens of thousands of commuters in the short term to change their commute habits is an unrealistic goal.Â While mass transit will play a part to the intermediate and long term solution (see Step Two), it is vital that a realistic and popular solution in the near term is necessary.”
In step 1, we see nothing about mass transit whatsoever. Indeed, congestion would be solved by adding capacity to existing roadways via widening them. As I read it, College Ave, Capitol Ave and MLK Blvd would be transformed into something that resembles either Binford Boulevard or keystone Parkway (Waltz suggests the final design being based on existing traffic flow and that they should compliment Binford Blvd / Fall Creek Parkway). Â Additionally, he envisions the same solution being applied to Hendricks County and Hancock County as well as a corridor through Greenwood in an attempt to solve congestion. Waltz does not suggest how this is paid for however, concluding that a large value would be generated not only for suburban commuters, but for Indianapolis residents.
Step Two â€“ Bus Rapid Transit
In Step Two, Waltz first lobbies against fixed route rail (ie: Northeast Corridor) claiming that BRT is cheaper, much more flexible and thus, should be the only rapid transit alternative that should be implemented. There is no specific mention of where these routes should go only mentioning that the University of Indianapolis has noted an interest in being a “node” in the system. Waltz seems to allude that this is an offer that U of I would build this node and thus this should be the system that is used to build out the BRT system. Indeed, several key destinations have been identified by Waltz as befitting nodes throughout the Indianapolis area and that they too should be tabbed to pay their share of expanding the system.
“Representatives from the University of Indianapolis have expressed an interest in constructing a bus rapid transit node at their campus. Their partnership should serve as an example for potential partnerships with other institutions. These nodes would provide a fast transportation alternative to key destination spots. It is possible that during peak times these bus rapid transit vehicles would have dedicated lanes as an incentive to use them by the public.”
Step Three â€“ IndyGo Reform
Step Three takes us even further down Waltz’s rabbit hole as he now takes a shot at IndyGo concluding that since the current service is neither widespread nor frequent enough, that national experts should be brought in to design what they think IndyGo should look like if they were able to “start from scratch”. Waltz is nice enough to suggest that smaller buses should be used in off-peak hours to save on operational costs. I almost think that he is getting it when he wraps up Step 3 with the following passage,
“One of the more pressing questions must be the number of routes of IndyGo as well as the frequency of stops. These two metrics will determine both the quality of service as well as the cost of providing it. The balance that a reformed IndyGo establishes will be essential to its success.”
Waltz concludes that these three steps are by no means the final plan, but hopes that it will serve to continue the conversation about mass transit in Indianapolis.
I don’t even know where to start with this proposal. Frankly speaking, it reads much like an Onion column. The report has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese. There is no clear purpose & need for what appears to be another highway plan. Perhaps solving some peak hour congestion which frankly speaking, is minimal compared to other cities. Waltz never once lays out a revenue source for Step 1 where he proposes a massive expansion of the Central Indiana highway system. Those of you in the transportation trade know first hand the expense involved in this. At some point, money will need to be found for this. Furthermore, there is no lip service given to the social ills associated with such a massive expansion in roadway that would require the demolition of countless homes to make way for the wide boulevards being proposed. Waltz seems to spend more time in determining how the transit side of things should be paid for however, noting that our local cultural destinations, which we know to be the bulk of where transit trips originate (…ahem 60% of local transit trips are used to get to work, not leisure) should be the ones to foot the bill. He wraps up by all but admitting his distaste for IndyGo and their current plight, a lack of funds to provide the service he claims needs to be provided.
Perhaps the final conclusion to this conversation, economically speaking, is to simply accept that Indy Connect’s plan is the more favorable one. After all, the long range transit plan has been shopped for a number of years, studied, revised and studied and revised again by transit professionals which seem to already satisfy Step 3 of Waltz transportation proposal. Perhaps Indy Connect comes with a bit of sticker shock attached to it, but will there not be sticker shock attached to the final roadway expansion? Indeed, I recently wrote about the streamlining of a mere 5.5 miles of roadway on the northside which would be delivered with staggering price tag of $63 million per mile. An expansion on par with what Waltz proposes would far eclipse the amount being requested by Indy Connect. These are the sorts of considerations that seem to have been missed when Waltz was putting his plan together and I look forward to his solution to funding his plan.