Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Time For a Bold Policy Recommendation

Last Monday, I sat through a meeting of regional planning leaders and was mortified to find broad support for a regional transit authority that would feature a light rail system. The system would be a Downtown Indy-Fishers Nickel Plate route, and take -optimistically- 1-4% of cars off I-69. Price tag? $850 million.

Nearly a billion dollars and only 1-4% of the cars removed? Who's the pilot of this spaceship? Can't we do better than this?

Unfortunately, Monday's meeting was merely a prelude to the commitments these leaders would make. On Wednesday, a unanimous vote by various mayors and county commissioners was cast to commit the funding regionally in an attempt to win Federal money. Indy Star report. Several of these leaders proposed an increase to the gasoline tax.

The real hopes behind the project are to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. A negligible reduction is the best this plan can offer. A secondary outcome, it was claimed, was a modest (15%) increase in some property values surrounding the corridor. That's just bunk. In most cities, the property values plunge in the corridor as it becomes a graffiti and litter catcher.

I don't like to complain without offering an alternative proposal, so here's mine:

Convert the Nickel Plate into a trail and greenway.

Look at the Monon trail and greenway. This north-south route from Downtown Indy to Carmel is absolutely beloved, having turned a neglected rail corridor into hot property, revitalizing slumping areas in Indianapolis, and making hot real estate in Carmel even hotter. It is responsible for the doubling and tripling of property values nearby, fueling the resurgence of Broad Ripple and a host of adjacent neighborhoods, bringing healthy family activity to an area once characterized by seedy characters and litter, while adding trees, bike shops, and restaurants along the trail.

The same can be done with the Nickel Plate. The same should be done with the Nickel Plate. Consider:

$850 million for light rail used by few -or- $20 million for a trail and greenway used by many?

A project that will depress real estate values -or- A project that will double real estate values?

How about this: tell the people who live along the Monon that their trail will be restored with track for a light rail line, and then tell the people living along the Nickel Plate that they are getting a trail, and see where you get enthusiasm.

This is an easy call. As Chair of the Libertarian Party of Hamilton County, I will be organizing a petition drive. Petitioners will sign their support for a trail and greenway over the Nickel Plate in favor of a light rail route. The petitions will be delivered to those who can affect policy and to the press, to show where the support lies.

If this interests you, email me at mikekole@insightbb.com

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