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Column: Indiana far from serious about mass transportation

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Trust those witty folks in the Indiana General Assembly to keep confounding us simple Hoosiers.

Last week, I praised the passage of House Bill 1020 calling for a study of economic incentives. I made the unforgivable mistake of working off a news release. What I discovered later was the bill itself is a 160-page document laying down the law for all sorts of matters dealing with economic development. Naïve as I am, I had endorsed a whole bill, most of which I could not understand.

As this column is being written, the legislature has yet to decide if the voters of selected central Indiana counties will be allowed to vote on a mass transit proposal. Presumably, this bill would improve bus service within, into and out of Marion County. Some new type of bus would be used to swish commuters to and from Hamilton County.

Johnson County also might get similar swooshing service.

Note that the idea of rail (light or heavy) has been deleted from the current discussion. That does not mean it will not reappear in the final bill. Our incredible legislature is capable of adding or subtracting anything about anything up to the final act of passage, which occurs whenever the leadership deems it appropriate.

It is difficult to be against improving public transit in the Indianapolis area. The past and current IndyGo system is a model of inadequacy. Improvements, made elsewhere decades earlier, are still not in place in Indianapolis.

Northwest Indiana, too, is debating important questions about bus and rail service.

Should the South Shore Line from Chicago to South Bend be extended into the wilds of Munster and beyond? Here, unlike Indianapolis, a rail line exists that already provides mediocre service to commuters and inferior service to off-peak riders.

Will an extension of the South Shore from Hammond improve the existing service? Or will such an extension merely draw off existing commuters?

The idea behind the South Shore extension is that more Lake County residents will have access to high-paying jobs in the central business core of Chicago. As far as I know, no one knows where in Illinois Indiana residents work today and where the job growth will occur tomorrow.

Who currently rides the South Shore? Are they low- or high-paid workers? How will these destination jobs fare in the future? How does the remarkable growth of housing in the core of Chicago influence the future job market for Indiana workers?

And that’s only the start of the questions needed to be asked and answered before citizens of Lake County can be expected to make informed decisions about using their taxes for this project.

South Bend, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne and Evansville — plus many smaller cities — have transit agonies and aspirations. The only (small) hope for funding is the federal government because the state shows little interest in the serious problems of our urban areas.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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