Monday, December 19th, 2011

Indiana Abandons Long Range Transportation Planning

The Indiana Department of Transportation has released a draft of its 2035 long range transportation plan. The previous iteration, which seems to no longer be available online, was a pretty good plan I thought. One of the first things Mitch Daniels did when coming into office was to blow the whistle on how INDOT had basically been lying about its plans. It had promised basically everything to everybody even though there was no prospect of paying for it. He decided to face the issue of underfunding head on, the result of which was the Toll Road lease and the Major Moves highway construction plan.

As part of this, INDOT produced a new long range plan that had a much more realistic list of projects than in the past. It was probably still too much to get done. But not ridiculously so.

Well, as Major Moves has progressed and it has become clear that the state doesn’t have the money to complete all the projects as originally conceived, INDOT seems to be backsliding into its old ways. I noted the sneaky way they kicked perhaps the state’s most critical corridor upgrade out of the Major Moves program without telling anyone. Now as I’ve reviewed their new LRP draft, it’s clear long range planning is reverting to form. Here is what INDOT says about their plan:

Previous INDOT Long-Range Transportation Plans were “Project Specific” identifying specific highway expansion projects to meet identified transportation needs and stated goals. Projects included costs and ready for construction dates through 2030. or the new plan, INDOT has adopted a “Needs-Based” type plan. Needs-based plans describe overarching strategies to accomplish future results (e.g., improved mobility, safety, economic development, etc.). Needs-based plans include official public policies for solving problems or meeting projected demands, typically based on legislation and implemented through governmental programs. It also identifies the means to accomplish these policies, through strategies, or programs.

In other words, INDOT has solved the management challenge of delivering on a long range list of projects by simply deciding not to make a list at all. This allows them to acknowledge every community’s “needs” without having any tangible plan to address them. In other words, pretty much the status quo ante. A long range plan where you don’t even say what it is that you plan do is no plan at all. Indiana has abandoned long range transportation planning.

Topics: Strategic Planning, Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

21 Responses to “Indiana Abandons Long Range Transportation Planning”

  1. Jeff Gillenwater says:

    “…as Major Moves has progressed and it has become clear that the state doesn’t have the money to complete all the projects as originally conceived”

    In order to gain approval for Major Moves, Daniels promised repeatedly that the money for all the projects currently in the state’s 10 year plan at the time, plus additional projects, plus a surplus would be “in the bank” as a result of its passage. That was never true, as he presented overly optimistic, unrealistic financial projections as fact, simply replacing one lie with another.

    And yet, even after he and INDOT had reneged on multiple projects around the state and still found themselves in a significant deficit situation, his PAC continued to present a “fully funded” transportation plan as a hallmark of his administration, up to and including the most recent state election cycle.

    As has happened so often with Daniels, the supposed straight shooter just got caught in his own lie. This latest CYA maneuver comes as no surprise.

  2. Curt Ailes says:

    I covered this in depth back in April when they were releasing draft copies of the long range plan.

    “long range” transportation planning in Indiana is a joke. Probably why there is a state level assesement of infrastructure and transportation going on.

  3. R. M. Van Frank says:

    This is Indiana, what did you expect? Maybe Major Moves was not such a good deal after all. Mitch will be gone soon so he will not have to worry about it. Maybe they will find another $300 million due to another accounting error.

  4. Aidan says:

    As someone who has a few insights to that side; it is a joke. The people that are tasked with making the list and plan end up being told what will go on the list…and it generally comes from various elected officals.

  5. Aidan says:

    …and I will say this. Major Moves started before the economy started going south and gas prices jumped up. Early estimates of project costs were blown out of the water when gas went over $3/gallon and vehicle counts started to seriously decline for the first time in a very long time.

  6. Peter Skosey says:

    Aaron,at the risk of going against the flow here I make the following comments. First of all, I am ashamed that the Indiana transportation plan wasn’t on my radar prior to your post so thanks once again for alerting me to an important topic. As such, I have only just read it and was not involved at all in its production or the public meetings. None-the-less, the approach, on face value, seems to be a good one. I can’t confirm or deny any of the claims made by previous commenters.

    For several years, the Metropolitan Planning Council has been trying to get IDOT to develop a more strategic transportation plan that wasn’t simply a list of projects but a set of goals and objectives that could be advanced by transportation investments. Given the dearth of available funds, we believe we must get the maximum benefit for every dollar spent in the state and that every dollar must advance multiple goals. Transportation investments can certainly move more people quicker but they can also increase economic development opportunities and outputs, they can improve the environment and they can decrease the jobs-housing mismatch, to name a few other outcomes. Developing a process that is based on “overarching strategies to accomplish future results” (p. 7) doesn’t strike me off the bat as a bad thing.

    Indiana clearly states that the list of projects will be available in their STIP which I readily found on-line ( if you want to see what is in the cue for funding and execution for the next four years, this is the place to go. Besides, we’ve all seen the list of projects that pleases everyone by offending no one. that list isn’t very helpful. The STIP is financially constrained so its a better place to seek project specific information anyway.

    Recently I sent Rep. Hultgren, one of our region’s members of the House T&I committee, a letter suggesting that the federal transportation bill essentially require this approach from regions in order to receive federal dollars. (

    Other items about the Indiana plan that I like are the broad planning factors (p.6) and the inter-agency coordination that includes MPOs and rural planning organizations(p. 26).

    So as not to come off as a complete Indiana apologist I will point out that the very critical section of the plan that identifies the performance measures (p.67) is a little thin, it only covers safety, infrastructure preservation and access management. There are no measurements for economic development (two bullets under access management do not suffice) social equity or environment despite having a whole section on environmental concerns (p. 21).

    As I said at the beginning, I’ve only just read the pdf, I wasn’t a part of putting this together nor have I spoken with others on the ground but the fact that the long range plan doesn’t list specific projects but rather sets forth the goals and objectives of Indiana doesn’t strike me off the bat as a bad thing.

    Peter Skosey
    Metropolitan Planning Council
    Chicago, Illinois

  7. Peter, thanks for the comments.

    I see some of what you write, but ultimately don’t believe this plan embodies any type of best practice in what you regard. A few reasons why:

    – This document is a kitchen sink collection of stuff, much of which was already sitting out in INDOT’s files – like MPO maps, NHS maps, etc. There’s no over-arching idea about what they plan to do.

    – The goals and policies are nebulous and feel good to the point that they are motherhood an apple pie. How will Indiana exactly allocate its transport dollars? I don’t think we have any sense of policy that would enable us to answer that question in any way. Key considerations might include: highway vs. non-highway modes, urban vs. rural spending, spending to support growth vs. as a welfare program for struggling areas, etc.

    – The reality of transport planning in Indiana is greatly at odds from what is portrayed in this document. For example, inter-agency coordination mostly consists of INDOT handing the MPO a list of projects to include local transport plans to make them federal fund eligible. The MPOs play a meager role in setting any real agenda for state highway spending. It’s interesting to note that one MPO recently refused to add a project related to the I-69 extension unless granted some assurances about the project’s impact on the local area. The governor himself directly told them the road would get built if the state had to use 100% local funds to do it to circumvent the planning requirements in federal law. INDOT said it would 100% defund this metro area (Bloomington) unless it complied with state demands.

    – I’ve heard from authoritative sources that MPOs find their own local planning to be much more cumbersome in this environment. They literally have no visibility into what they state plans to do in their areas more than a handful of years out.

    At the end of the day, if MPOs can be required to produce financially constrained 30 year transport long range plans that include lists of projects, it’s difficult for me to understand how the state can claim this is too hard for them. Indeed, the state’s stance makes the MPO process nearly impossible to pull off since state projects are supposed to included in those local plans.

  8. Chris Barnett says:

    Something important to distinguish is nomenclature.

    In the business realm, a “plan” is something concrete for which there is a business case, a pro-forma budget and capital expenditure plan, and staff allocated to accomplish that plan.

    In the civic realm in Indiana, particularly transport, there are two kinds of things called “plans”: the long-range vision document, and the biennial budget. One is not budget-constrained, and the other is subject to partisan, regional, and anti-big-city (i.e. anti-Indianapolis) politics. There’s a good reason Indianapolis mayors took back city streets designated US and State highways inside I-465.

    It seems to me that it is just short of impossible to do hard and logical/sensible business-style planning (prioritizing, budgeting, and appropriation) for transportation projects unless the process becomes extremely undemocratic. Which is to say that in a messy representative setting like state government, parochialism, short-sightedness, and petty politics will mostly rule the day…and the budget.

    The alternative (Robert Moses/technocrat central planning) is probably worse.

  9. Chris, I’ll note again that federal law requires MPO to produce a 30 year fiscally constrained long range plan. This has to include a list of projects, including state projects. Projects not in this plan (and not in the TIP) can’t get federal funding. I think it’s ridiculously unfair for the state to say it can’t produce a long range plan when the MPOs in the state have to – and have done so successfully – and need state input to make an actual plan happen. The state projects have to be in the MPO plans anyway for urbanized areas, so why not put them in the state’s own plan?

  10. Chris Barnett says:

    “Federal law requires MPO”. Not state DOT’s. It’s as simple as this: they don’t have to.

    It doesn’t have to make sense to normal people; as you’ve noted repeatedly, INDOT doesn’t particularly care what the public thinks.

    That could change if the next governor puts a premium on openness in transportation planning and makes it a priority for his INDOT commissioner.

    Given the likely “next governor”, I wouldn’t hold my breath. This isn’t a conservative litmust test item.

  11. John Morris says:

    “The alternative (Robert Moses/technocrat central planning) is probably worse.”

    Isn’t the real solution or at least real alternative, mostly privately funded roads, with plans aligned by the marketplace?

    Posing total, stalinist/Moses type control as a so called alternative to political chaos is a false choice.

  12. Chris Barnett says:

    Private ownership of all state roads approaches fantasy, and is a false choice that ignores entirely the economic concept of “public goods”. Aaron’s post and my replies are all about the real world as it exists.

    The example of business planning is not “Stalinist”. Business planning, especially capital planning, is a top-down exercise not subject to democratic rules. Moses applied a similar exclusionary (expert or technocratic) process to public goods, especially tranportation planning, with mixed results.

  13. John Morris says:

    The hidden capital debt and infrastructure disaster in most of the country shows quite the opposite. In the absence of a real connection to market feedback and dicipline, one sees escalating levels of waste. There is just no rational way to judge plans, and adjust them to changing conditions and no incentive to do so.

    It’s true that my viewpoint is currently not widely popular, but thinking the current situation can continue is the real fantasy.

  14. John Morris says:

    “The real world as it exists”, is built on massive hidden liabilities almost nobody accounts for. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s falling apart and beyond bankrupt.

    Ever wonder why the government doesn’t use standard business accounting meathods?

  15. John Morris says:

    I have a legal case to bring up that is likely to have a huge impact.

    Seems to me an whole lot of the bad planning and or lack of planning stems a massive trust investors in state and municipal general obligation bonds or bonds with implied guarantees. The assumption is that there’s no need to closely examine plans since any shortfalls will always be made up by taxpayers.

    The current Jefferson County Alabama case is likely to show the real limits of this concept.

  16. EngineerScotty says:

    While I’m no fan of Moses, coupling him with the likes of Stalin strikes me as wholly inappropriate–Robert Moses, for all his faults, didn’t round up and shoot his political opponents; nor was he responsible for the death of millions of New Yorkers. The reason Stalin is regarded as a Great Monster of History isn’t because of the efficacy of five-year-plans; it’s because he slaughtered 20-million or so people during his rule.

  17. John Morris says:

    It should be pretty obvious I was exagerating but Moses freely used massive amounts of force and changed/destroyed tens of thousands of lives.

    However, many people Stalin personally had killed (perhaps 10 million) many millions more died simply because the plans themselves failed to account and adjust to changing conditions.

    Ludwig Von Mises, actually got a medal during the 1920’s for pointing out exactly why a centraly planned economy has no way of making rational plans that correctly balance spending and resources.

    Likewise, in the case of China, we have 10-20 million starving to death during the great leap forward for exactly the same reason.

    I find it sad and amazing given the huge history and datbase from dozens of countries that people still ignore this problem.

  18. John Morris says:

    Given that Stalin was such a sadistic killer, The great leap forward under Mao might be the best example of the problem.

    Mao may have killed or put a few million people in prison camps but most experts agree that the 15-50 million famine deaths during that period were primarily the result of the plans themselves.

  19. EngineerScotty says:

    Modern urban planning, even of the sort practiced by Moses (which I agree is a bad thing), still has utterly nothing to do with the sort of planned economies practiced by the totalitarian communist regimes of the mid-20th century. Under Stalin and Mao, virtually the entire economy was planned–planners would dictate how much fertilizer and machinery factories would produce, how much crops and livestock farmers would grow, and how much food and other stuff people would be permitted to buy, as well as the hours people would work, the jobs they would perform, and the pay they would receive. Ignoring the lack of political freedoms, THIS is communism in a nutshell–it’s an entirely different league from the sort of economic policies commonly found in the democratic West that frequently get denounced as “marxism” by right-wing know-nothings. Communism, true communism, is simply not found anywhere significant in the US (if at all), even in the most liberal bastions, and comparisons between it and democratic political governance it are Godwinesque, full stop.

  20. John Morris says:

    The question here is about central planning in all it’s forms.

    “Public goods” as in most road infrastructure are not subject to market pressures. In most cases, even revenue bonds are backed by a general obligation pledge, so that there is very little incentive to look at any economic relationship between what’s built and any real demand.

    You may try to evadee or ignore it, but there is just no way outside the market/ voluntary price system to judge what to build, or maintain.

    This isn’t exactly a minor thing since it’s one of the biggest factors in housing and development patterns.

  21. EngineerScotty says:

    “Central planning in all its forms” is far too broad a topic to speak of in much detail or with much clarity. There are many things that are true of Marxist command economies that simply are not true of the mechanisms commonly used in the US. Yet you persist in treating them as though they are close cousins.

    JM: You may try to evadee or ignore it, but there is just no way outside the market/ voluntary price system to judge what to build, or maintain.

    Horsepuckey. Democratic politics provides many such mechanisms.

    That said, it isn’t an either-or situation. For some things, the market works better. For much infrastructure, though, it’s easier for the state to build these things, for various reasons. Granted, the state often gets it wrong, but markets often fail as well.

    I have nothing against market mechanisms per se, and most likely agree with you on many aspects of zoning; not to mention “architectural review boards” and other means that are devised to ensure a neighborhood remains homogenous in form (whatever form that may be)–of course, my objection to such things applies equally to private-sector HOAs as it does to municipal governments.

    But I do get annoyed when local planning organizations and such get compared to Soviet dictators and the like. It’s a cheap rhetorical device which tells utterly nothing useful.

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