Put upgrade of state’s transit in fast lane

August 23rd, 2015

News Coverage:
August 23, 2015 1:02 AM
Put upgrade of state's transit in fast lane

The late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar understood the value of laying out clear goals.

“You can’t hit a target you cannot see,” Ziglar used to say, “and you cannot see a target you do not have.”

A 30-year infrastructure plan unveiled last week is a $4 billion plan to make our road, rail, water and air transportation systems faster and more efficient for companies that manufacture and move products.

It will give our legislative delegation and other area advocates a clear idea of the targets northeast Indiana might aim for when transportation dollars are divvied up and construction priorities are set by the state.

“Our task in this is moving goods to market in the most competitive way,” said John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. “We don’t want to be the community that’s bypassed.”

As significant as the plans for transportation growth that northeast Indiana and the state’s other regions are making with Conexus is the consensus that seems to be emerging about the need to upgrade what we already have.

Two years in the making, the new-construction outline is the work of the regional Partnership and Conexus Indiana, a nonprofit think tank for the transportation and logistics industry. It is a first for our region. The hope is that the plan could become, literally, a road map for economic development in northeast Indiana.

Our region is an attractive location for manufacturing companies, with proximity to big markets, low taxes and ambitious efforts under way to improve the quality of life. But connections with suppliers and routes to reach those bigger markets – such as U.S. 33, Indiana 124, U.S. 24 and interchanges with I-69 and I-80/90 – need to be unclogged and worry-free.

The plans offered last week appear coherent and logical, although there will always be the possibility of detours in the years ahead, as technology, transportation and global markets continue to evolve.  

The emergency repair work this month on an I-65 bridge underscores that Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure has to be attended to before we can realistically dream about the future.

Tragically, two motorists have died on the back roads between Lafayette and Indianapolis as thousands of students and staffers struggle to return to Purdue University for fall classes.

David Holt, Conexus vice president for operations and business development, said all six of the regional entities partnering with his organization have agreed Indiana needs to sharply upgrade its roadway system.

“It costs $600 million to maintain roads in poor condition,” Holt said. “It costs $925 million to maintain them in excellent condition.”

Paying for that increase wouldn’t necessarily mean raising taxes, Holt said; it could be done by reallocating more of the sales tax revenue from gasoline sales, for instance.

Gov. Mike Pence has said he’s thinking about infrastructure solutions and the legislature is slated to focus on the topic in 2017.

But state leaders need to take up ideas like those Conexus has discussed with more urgency.

Planning northeast Indiana’s transportation future could pay dividends. But only if we also commit to maintaining the infrastructure we depend on now.