Here are two interesting commuter/light rail stories out of Indianapolis.
Planners admit rail line won't end traffic congestion
By Dan McFeely
August 2, 2000
FISHERS, Ind. -- Regional planning officials admit a proposed commuter rail
system will have little impact on traffic congestion over the next 25 years.
If the $500 million rail line is built in the northeast corridor of greater
Indianapolis, only 19,000 people are expected to use it daily. That's
compared to about 150,000 people who will continue driving on the corridor's
"We will have a congested highway system with or without a transit
investment," said John Myers, a traffic consultant with Parsons
That did not sit well with taxpayers who complained Tuesday night that the
rail system would be a waste of money.
"So we are going to spend $500 million and see little impact?" said Mary
Rensink. "How is this acceptable? Maybe I am missing something."
Rensink was one of about 35 people at the first of four hearings on the
Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization's two-year study of the
northeast corridor. The corridor starts just south of Downtown Indianapolis
and runs north to Noblesville; it has the most commuters of any area.
Although there are several options for alleviating congestion on I-69, I-465
and I-70, two are being studied in depth.
One plan calls for a widening some sections of freeway to 10 lanes and
upgrading U.S. 31, Keystone Avenue and Allisonville Road in Hamilton County
and Pendleton Pike in Marion County. Cost: $2.1 billion.
The other option is rail. Besides the $500 million upfront cost, there would
be an annual budget of about $27 million split between Hamilton and Marion
counties, officials said. A tax increase of some sort would be expected.
The proposed commuter train would start out from Noblesville and Fishers on
the same tracks used every August by the popular Indiana State Fair train.
Near the fairgrounds, it would connect to new light-rail tracks running west
on 38th Street to Capitol Avenue. The line would then go south to Downtown,
with several stops on the way.
Northbound trains from Downtown would run along Illinois Street back to 38th
Planners say this option would have the highest impact on low-income and
minority groups. Still, some are not convinced that the commuter line is the
best option, particularly because of the anticipated delays at several major
intersections along the existing tracks, including 96th, 86th and 82nd
"We all want to have a world-class city," said Max Eckert of Indianapolis.
"But this rail option is not world-class. It's just going to cause more
Dave Tudor of Noblesville said more energy should go toward fixing current
problems, such as the I-69 interchange at Ind. 37 and 116th Street in
"Twenty-five years from now, I'll be 75 and probably won't be driving much,"
said Tudor. "We need to have something done today."
The biggest obstacle to approving a commuter and light-rail system is money.
Officials believe 60 percent of the bill would be paid by the federal
government, leaving 40 percent to be split between Marion and Hamilton
The next three meetings will be Thursday at Cathedral High School, Tuesday
at Noblesville High School and Aug. 10 at Arlington High School. All begin
at 7 p.m.
A policy steering committee chaired by Mayor Bart Peterson, Indiana
Department of Transportation Commissioner Cristine Klika and state Sen. Luke
Kenley, R-Noblesville, is expected to make a decision on the corridor's
future at the end of the month.
Copyright 2000 Indiana Newspapers Inc.
Smooth trafficking in ideas
August 2, 2000
Somebody lost the script.
A public hearing on a hot community issue is supposed to feature cranks,
blowhards and perennial election candidates who won't give up the microphone
even in the face of audible snoring.
The guy who thinks the mayor's office has been taken over by the Trilateral
Commission has to be holding forth. And the ol' boy who swears he'd be in
favor of more freeways even if he were not in the sand and gravel business.
The stock characters must have been stuck in traffic last week when WTHR
(Channel 13) and The Indianapolis Star's editorial page conducted a forum on
central Indiana's transportation future.
Nearly 30 people from a crowd pushing 200 rose to face the cameras (without
first reporting to Makeup), and I don't remember a one who wasn't at least
approximately reasonable. I can't think of an aspect of mobility and land
use that wasn't intelligently addressed.
It was even polite. Did I actually hear the young man with the beard say, "I
stand corrected," to the gent in the business suit?
Hope for a solution
A meeting of the minds, indeed. I just wish I could say I came away with
hope for a solution to the automotive plague that threatens our economy,
lungs, job opportunities, national image and sanity.
Unfortunately, reason found itself in the gridlock of hard experience. The
more bold and thoughtful an idea, the stronger the signal it would never
A half-billion dollars for a Northeast corridor rail system, one resident
said, is "peanuts." She's been to Bavaria, a state smaller than Indiana,
which just spent $32 billion to upgrade its trains. Beautiful system, takes
you from the heart of Munich to the outskirts for $1.50. Germans don't
regret the expenditure.
If you're going to fiddle with the kind of sums being kicked around by the
Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization and Central Indiana Regional
Citizens League, the lady said, you can forget playing in the big leagues.
She's right. Major league isn't $200 million for a sports facility. It's
billions for infrastructure, rail lines, road improvements. And she knows we
won't cough it up.
"Indianapolis is 20 years behind in anything we do because we're Hoosiers,"
she said. And laughter rippled over the gathering. How could anyone take
umbrage? We have men campaigning for governor on a $275-a-year property tax
cut and a 7 to 10 cents a gallon gasoline tax cut. We won't pay billions for
an urban railroad.
The way it looks up ahead
Can we live without such a drastic measure? Grossly widening existing
freeways, also highly expensive, won't be sufficient given our horizontal
growth, the experts say. Doing nothing extraordinary would see the traffic
that now clogs Keystone Avenue and U.S. 31 and I-465 more than double in 20
The way it looks up ahead, I'd suggest we get on the cell phone and tell the
rest of the nation we're going to run late.
Again, it's not as though we lack for ideas. Despite all the trees we've
bulldozed to create this mess, some folks at the hearing were able to see
Several even had the audacity to ask why we must have the obscene sprawl
that makes traffic congestion such a critical issue.
Maybe the person who lives in Plainfield and works Downtown could live at
the county line, someone suggested.
Maybe retailers could rethink the cycle of abandoning stores to build new
ones two miles farther into farmland.
Maybe the trouble and expense that went into widening 82nd Street and
Allisonville Road a few years ago to accommodate overdevelopment could have
discouraged huge new redundant development on the same corner.
And maybe, as one man ventured to preach, the consumption of precious land
in the countryside while city space goes to waste and neighborhoods die is a
violation of social conscience.
Given the political and cultural smog we live in, none of these good people
could expect more than a civil ear. But that alone is heartening.
Ultimately, the flow of democracy matters more than the clotting of traffic,
even if it can't cure us of our addiction to cars before we hit bottom.
Thus did I console myself as I hustled out to beat the rush to the
interstate, which was pretty thick for 9 o'clock on a weeknight.