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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Straight talk about the costs of streets, sidewalks and cricket fields

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In the partisan rhetoric and sniping about improving Indianapolis-Marion County’s infrastructure, I have a unique perspective having heard the cries and requests for improved streets and sidewalks for several decades.

I first began to learn about Indianapolis’ chronic problem of upgrading its infrastructure in 1997, when I began those “WTLC Morning with the Mayor” programs with then Mayor William “Bill” Hudnut.

In those days, Hudnut appeared on several morning radio shows, including the city’s No. 1 morning program with legendary broadcaster Gary Todd on then WIBC-AM (1070). Todd and I and the other morning show hosts would get calls from listeners to their mayor on a wide range of subjects.

White residents would call Todd and demand Mayor Hudnut fix their streets and sidewalks.

Black residents would call me on WTLC and ask Hudnut for the same thing.

Hudnut always had a pat answer for those calls. “We’ve got thousands of miles of streets and sidewalks in Indianapolis. We can’t handle them all, but I’ll take down the information and see what we can do.”

Interviewing live four successive mayors (even Greg Ballard before he abandoned speaking with Black media) callers would ask for sidewalks and repaired streets.

You’d think after 37 years, every neighborhood would’ve had their sidewalk fixed and street repaired by now. But that’s not the case.

Indianapolis’ infrastructure needs were so bad, in 1991, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce formed the GIFT “Getting Indianapolis Fit for Tomorrow” Committee to examine Indianapolis’ infrastructure needs.

Their report outlined $1.1 billion (in 1990’s dollars) of infrastructure spending, with an emphasis on fixing Indianapolis chronic sewer problems.

The GIFT report did mention streets, but I can’t remember if the report mentioned sidewalks. There’s no copy of the report online and I don’t know if I still have a copy buried in a storage box somewhere.

But I don’t believe that group, or anyone else ever put a price tag on what it would take to bring ALL our city’s streets up to snuff and put sidewalks in every neighborhood that needs them.

It would be extraordinarily expensive to provide or repair every sidewalk in every neighborhood that needs it. I’d ballpark that cost in the $300-$500 million range.

Streets are worse.

If the same streets have the same pothole problems year after year; the solution isn’t asphalt patching year after year. The solution is reconstructing the entire street. That’s an expensive proposition.

So is bridge repair.

The Ballard administration’s bizarre solution to repairing bridges is taking sometimes a year (or in the case of the Illinois Street Bridge over Fall Creek two years) to repair a simple 500 foot bridge.

When asking people to part with more of their tax dollars, credibility of those doing the asking is critical. The problem in the battle over infrastructure funding is, neither side has done well.

Going back to Mayors Hudnut, Goldsmith, Peterson and now Ballard, none has shown the leadership by telling Indianapolis residents the full price tag for bringing every city sidewalk up to snuff. They never stepped up and provided the tough love of telling Indianapolis the hard truth of how much it would cost to give us the streets and sidewalks we’d like.

Or what’s the total cost to fully fix and repair our streets.

Yes, the price tag would be billions; but isn’t it time, Mayor Ballard and Council President Maggie Lewis, that our city was told the truth about what a quality city costs?

Mayor Ballard was elected on a tax cutting platform. Alone among Indiana’s mayors, he touted the property tax caps, yet never was honest with our city on the fiscal stress those caps would cause.

Back in Hudnut’s day, they’d just raise property taxes or assess a new “fee” and call it a day. Steve Goldsmith, more sensitive to property taxes, would just open the city’s credit card and borrow.

Now those hard property tax caps restrict spending. And Indy’s nearing its credit limit.

Ballard’s plan of borrowing $150 million for street-sidewalk improvements and paying that mortgage off in 30 years for improvements that’ll last half that long is absurd and ludicrous.

The Democratic plan of raiding the downtown TIF cookie jar (which Ballard raids on a regular basis) makes somewhat more sense to many voters; though some question its legality and propriety.

Finally a word about “cricket.”

Mayor Ballard’s obsession with cricket, and sucking up to business interests in India, led to that dastardly ill-named “World Sports Park,” and its high quality “cricket field.” An “infrastructure” waste of $6 to $9 million of your taxes that could’ve fixed scores of sidewalks.

I say “high quality cricket field” because a regular grass-turf field, suitable for soccer or football, could’ve also been used for cricket.

The city didn’t need a park with a field that included lush grass better than Crooked Stick Golf Course with an expensive underground sprinkler system. Something Indy’s other parks don’t have.

Mayor Ballard – read my words – your cricket field obsession was and remains a waste of tax dollars.

Now the mayor’s blasting critics of cricket (like me?) as “demeaning minorities” is warped at worst, misguided at best.

It’s strange that whenever Mayor Ballard has talked about cricket he only mentions India. The World Cup of Cricket is next winter in Australia and New Zealand. The sport’s 14 best teams will compete; including teams from the West Indies, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Our mayor never mentions those Black-majority nations when talking about cricket. Or Asian-majority nations’ teams Pakistan and Bangladesh (which share the Indian subcontinent) or Sri Lanka (an island nation located just off the Indian coast).

Mayor Ballard demeans the sports he professes to admire by having us think it’s all about India; instead of it being about the entire world.

See ‘ya next week.

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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