Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Indiana Way

I don't flinch nearly as much as the average Libertarian when rocks are cast our way. While folks usually throw gravel, I tend to believe we deserve #9 aggregate dropped overhead by a front-end loader. Why? The usual public M.O. for a Libertarian candidate or official is to loudly squawk about how things are wrong, unfair, suck, or stupid... and then go on to the next complaint. We've come to recognize to obvious her in Indiana- complaining only goes so far, offering an alternative will make you viable.

So it came to pass that an amalgam of regional leaders- mayors, county and city councilors- came together to agree to begin the funding of light rail system. After much negotiation, they unanimously agreed to get behind a starter system that would run from downtown Indianapolis to Fishers, a well-to-do suburb on Indy's northeast side in Hamilton County. The idea was to get the starter up and running with the intention of adding to it in the future towards making a more complete network.

The cost for the starter system? $850 million. The cost was proposed to be bourne by everyone in the country. It is hoped that up to $425 million in Federal money can be earned when the regional leaders make their pitch to a variety of Federal agencies for grant money. The rest of the money, which could be anywhere from $425 million to $750 million, would be supplied by the counties of Central Indiana- Marion (Indy), Hamilton (Fishers), Hancock, Shelby, Morgan, Johnson, and Hendricks via property taxes; also by a hike in the gasoline tax, statewide.
The rationale for the system is that the trains would take car traffic off of the highly congested stretch of I-69 in Fishers, not only to relieve congestion, but to improve air quality. The anticipated usage would result in, optimistically, the diversion of 1% to 4% of commuters from cars to the trains.

This is where the usual Libertarian complaining would come in. Let me try my hand: "1% to 4% of cars dispalced? For nearly a billion dollars? Are ye mad? Back to the drawing board!" -or- "It is unfair and unjust to levy taxes against the good people of Johnson and Hendricks counties for the purpose of providing a benefit to a very small percentage of the people in Marion and Hamilton counties".

While this rhetoric is a useful tool in showing the people of these other locations that Libertarians are the ones defending them while the Democrats and Republicans are the ones taking advantage of them, it won't make a bit of difference towards stopping the proposal. We will win the war of words and lose the battle of the budget. I am not a man of zero sum games! I want to win both battles!

In response, The Libertarian Party of Hamilton County held a press conference to offer an alternative.
We pointed to the corridor chosen for the route. It is the old Nickel Plate railroad, and it still has track on it. We asked the question, "Is light rail the best possible use for this corridor?" We said no, that the best use for the corridor is to convert it into a trail and greenway.

Regional leaders never considered the best use of a resource they govern. They looked at it only as a solution to a problem- congestion and pollution.

We pointed to the extremely successful Monon Trail, running from Indy to Carmel. The Trail is on the former Monon railroad. It has transformed a significant area from a run-down, trash and graffiti catching slum into some of the most desirable real estate in Indianapolis. It elevated hot property in Carmel to ultra-hot. Neighborhoods have been revitalized and small businesses have bloomed along the Monon. The Trail is jammed full of bicyclists, joggers, skaters, and families, all participating in healthy activity.

We asked the question, if it was good for the Monon, why not bring this benefit to the Nickel Plate?
We expect a huge response. We had excellent media coverage for the press conference, with the state's largest radio station (WIBC) and TV covering. We have launched a petition drive designed to show that the Nickel Plate Trail idea has greater support than the light rail system. This is a democracy, isn't it?

Oh, that's right. The regional leaders didn't bother to ask the people who live and own businesses near the corridor which they would prefer. The Libertarians are doing this. Bridges are already being built between us and the supporters of parks and green space. You thought that never happened, didn't you?

Please do continue to cast your rocks at the LP affiliates in other states. They are rhetorically correct, but words do not win the war. Superior policy proposals that are pitched correctly are hard to ignore.

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