Funds should help mass transit

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed Volkswagen had violated the Clean Air Act by tampering with emissions testing. The agency discovered the German car company’s diesel engines were programmed to activate emissions controls only during laboratory testing. In the lab, the output met U.S. standards for emissions. But in real-world driving, the vehicles would emit up to 40 times the limit.

It was an egregious violation. And now Volkswagen is paying a hefty price.

A federal settlement with Volkswagen created a mitigation trust fund of nearly $2.9 billion, which aims to address the resulting increase in nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere. That’s in addition to $10 billion the company has set aside to buy back the offending vehicles.

Each state will receive a portion of the trust fund. Indiana’s share should be about $41 million.

State officials, however, have yet to decide exactly how to use that money. Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Bruno Pigott reportedly is holding meetings with “interested parties” to gather thoughts on how to use the funds, though his office declined to say who exactly those parties were.

We haven’t been granted an audience with Pigott, but we would like to offer a suggestion.

Use the $41 million as seed funding for improvements to mass transportation.

Ideally, that would come in the form of the long-debated light rail system.

Imagine zipping from Anderson to downtown Indianapolis without having to worry about traffic or gas or the weather. Imagine the benefit to travelers who could fly into Indianapolis and be at their downtown hotel in minutes. Imagine doing something that could create jobs, improve our everyday lives and protect the environment.

Unfortunately, $41 million is nowhere near the total cost of a light rail system. Studies show light rail can cost anywhere from $15 million to $100 million per mile. The Sound Transit system in Seattle was projected to cost around $3.9 billion, but those estimates have ballooned to about $5.2 billion. A proposed rail in Honolulu is projected to cost about $250 million per mile.

Given the cost, a light rail may not be the solution. But this is the type of project we hope to see that $41 million invested in. Something that truly works to negate the effect emissions have on our environment and climate. Perhaps a statewide bus system that utilizes existing infrastructure and would be more flexible to route changes.

Whatever project the state settles upon, our hope is that it reflects the true intention of the funds — to reduce the impact of our modern life on the planet we call home.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.