The IBJ

Last week, sources in the first half of our report on regional rapid transit questioned whether such a system is a good investment. They cited the cost-$500 million to $1.4 billion for the first of seven routes radiating from downtown-and relatively low ridership in other medium-size cities that already have rapid transit.
   This week's installment sheds light on just how difficult it will be to win funding for light rail or other options being considered, such as an express bus route or an automated system like Clarian Health's "peoplemover." Competition is fierce for federal funds, and it'll be a tall order to sell politicians on a plan that involves raising taxes.
   IBJ reporters Chris O'Malley and Peter Schnitzler ran into plenty of skeptics in researching the two-part report. Some of the doubters were state legislators, many of whom knew little or nothing about the project, even though it's been the subject of years of study.
   What became clear is the enormous sales job that awaits supporters of rapid transit.
   But sell they must, because the region can't continue to build its way out of traffic congestion through costly road-construction projects that often involve flattening homes and businesses for expanded right-of-way.
   We agree with Mayor Bart Peterson's administration, its transportation planners, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and other groups that understand a multimodal transportation system is key to the city's future.
   Building the region's economy means attracting investment, jobs and people. Winning the first two means attracting that last element, many of whom demand public transportation because they've grown used to it in other cities, where they can work, read the paper or perform other tasks during their commute.
   For others, public transportation is an economic lifeline because it's their only option for getting to a low-wage job.
   Rapid transit seems expensive until you consider how much is spent maintaining and expanding our streets and highways. The state plans to spend $862 million this year alone on the state's transportation infrastructure. Just last week, the Department of Transportation announced it will spend $20 million over four years for improvements that will merely tide over Interstate 69 commuters until the state spends hundreds of millions on another.
   Christine Altman, a Hamilton County commissioner and president of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, is correct in urging public officials to look at rapid-transit costs the same way they view the billions of dollars already spent on roads.
   We applauded Gov. Mitch Daniels' creativity. Now it's time to apply some of that creativity to other transportation needs.
   It's no wonder Hoosiers are suspect about getting out of their cars. That's all they've known for generations. It's up to our elected officials to lead us out of this onehorse mentality.

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