Mayor: Massive transit plan open for discussion

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An ambitious and expensive proposal to improve transportation options in central Indiana won’t be driven down the public’s throat, Mayor Greg Ballard said at the unveiling of the study Wednesday morning.

The proposal by an influential private-sector task force includes commuter rail lines and even toll roads added to local interstate highways.

"This will be the year for a discussion,” said Mayor Greg Ballard. “This is not a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.”

Backers of the plan, which also suggests improving local bus and highway connections, said the work by the Central Indiana Transit Task Force amounts to a crucial private-sector endorsement needed to finally proceed with a regional transportation system after 30 years of government studies.

But a potentially controversial component of the plan is a local option sales tax that could cost residential taxpayers an extra $180 a year to help fund a system estimated to cost $6.7 billion.

That's likely to be a tough sell in a region already weary of paying for sports stadiums and, despite growing congestion, not yet suffering world-class gridlock.

Besides backing municipal planners' long-studied recommendation of a northeast commuter rail line to Fishers and later to Greenwood, the task force recommends in-street passenger rail tracks on or alongside Washington Street on the east and west sides of the city—perhaps extending to Indianapolis International Airport.

Passenger trains ran atop Washington Street in the early 1900s; some of the track still is visible at the bottom of potholes.

Equally as radical is the task force's recommendation of adding toll lanes along segments of Interstate 69, northeast of Interstate 465—and along Interstate 65, southeast of the city.

The lanes, which would be in addition to existing lanes, would provide motorists with an "express" option as well as help generate cash for other transit improvements.

"The lanes would be expected to raise more than they would cost to operate, thus providing a source of funding for other transportation infrastructure in the city," the transit task force report states.

The study has been under way for the last year and has been led by Allan Hubbard, co-founder of Indianapolis-based acquisition firm E&A industries. Hubbard served both Bush administrations, including a role as assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council.

The task force is a collaboration of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

The group also recommends expanding the reach of IndyGo into neighboring counties and implementing more direct routes as compared with the hub-and-spoke system used today. Such changes could reduce a 30- to-60-minute trip to 10 to 20 minutes.

Indianapolis is one of the nation’s largest cities, but its bus transit system ranks at No. 100, said Hubbard, saying poor public transportation hurts workers and employers.

“Too many times I’ve found job opportunities for people, but without transportation they can’t get to work,”said Joe Slash, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Urban League.

“We need to look at this not as a social thing but as an economic development tool,” he added.

While there have been no shortage of fanciful rail, bus and highway schemes over the years, all have stopped dead over how to raise hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars to pay for them.

The task force offers ideas beyond the dubious concept of toll-road revenue. Another is to expand current roadway investments at a "slightly lower rate" than envisioned in the city and state's 25-year regional transportation plan. Instead, total investment would be reduced by about $600 million, to $8.3 billion—with the savings shifted to the other transportation infrastructure proposals.

Also, taxpayers in counties benefiting from the revamped system would bear some financial burden.

The task force recommends the use of a referendum to ratify a local option sales tax to support construction and operating costs.

"We estimate the amount of an additional sales tax to be between 0.35 to 0.50 percent," states a summary of the task force report. "This amounts to approximately $10 to $15 per month per household on average across the region."

The use of a local option income tax to fund transit improvements is not dissimilar from the concept raised by rail backers that has come up in proposed state legislation in recent years.

The funding ideas from the private sector report go a long way toward helping reach a consensus, said Ehren Bingaman, director of the Central Indiana Transportation Authority, the agency that would implement a future transit system. "The idea of how to fund it is probably the furthest the conversation has gone."

Bingaman said he was encouraged by what the task force found and credited the value of its cost-benefit analysis approach. Having such a private sector "buy-in" to transit is an important hurdle to clear in the process, he added.

The task force Wednesday is officially handing off its report to CIRTA, IndyGo, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization.

What's next is a series of about 30 public meetings around the region, starting this month, to gauge public reaction. One official noted that among the issues to be debated, for example, is a task force recommendation to stop the rail service in Fishers rather than farther north in Noblesville, as CIRTA and MPO have contemplated.

The push for rail transit comes amid growing highway congestion and pollution, and as IndyGo struggles to find the funding necessary to adequately serve residents who don't have cars or want additional public transit options.

"We estimate our lack of transportation options and the accompanying increases in congestion result in economic losses of over $150 million per year," states the task force report. "We forecast that by 2035, if left unaddressed, these losses will grow to $690 million annually. Continuing our current transportation strategy will not adequately meet our needs in an increasingly competitive world."

The report claims the system could result in 4,500 jobs and more than $27 billion in additional regional economic output. The report estimates a 4-percent increase in the value of property near rail service in Marion County.

The report proposes phasing in bus-service enhancements over the next five years. The northeast rail line would begin in five years, a southern passenger rail service in 10 years and Washington Street light rail in 15 years.



  • Public transportation
    When politicians actually suggest investment in infrastructure, you have to know its a good Idea. It takes 10-25 years to build; so they get all the blame for cost and someone else gets all the credit for completion. Its a balance equation, developers wont develop downtown unless there are things to do and ways to get there. Indianapolis is going to continue to have vacant lots downtown unless this sort of investment is made. Bigger highways just make fishers and greenwood and avon larger and pull more value out of the metro area-
    In my opinion-higher density public transportation is the only way to 'keep' Indianapolis 'urban'.
    Look at what just a new cultural walk is doing for the east side!
  • GO FOR IT!
    I moved to Jersey from Indy about 5 years ago. During my first 4 years I would NEVER consider taking the train and/or bus because it was totally out of my element. INDY needs a transit overhaul! I know it may seem like alot of $ and IT IS but it would be so worth it. Now that I take the train my costs have gone down dramatically and I don't consider myself a "slave" to the transit system. It is all about convenience and saving money and the environment! It would be a great thing INDY I say go for it! =)
  • Mass transit is NOT mass
    Yo Chris - you are deceived big boy. All the cities you mentioned still face the threat of no transit - you know why? Because of unions! San Francisco just had a strike and shut down transit - you know what? The city still went on.

    Chris, mass transit is called the highway. In nearly every major city, including those that have invested BILLIONS in transit, over 90% of commuters still chooose to drive! NYC is the only exception to this rule, and even in NYC, 55% still choose to drive. Note also that NYC is being hung out to dry by their unions, and are facing MASSIVE transit cuts, tax increases, and fare increases. What a system to adopt here!

    The MASSES want to drive. Money diverted from highways into transit is a waste. If Indy was truly forward thinking, they would plan for updating their power grid in order to support electric cars - this is the future. Not some chug a lug, sit by a crazed stranger public transit system.
    • Shhhh
      It's not that I'm too good to ride public transportation. But let's face it there is health risk.. TB is on the rise in the United States and please don't give me the there is some many percent that will catch it...IM ONE. FYI this is an airborne disease so tell me how can you control the fresh air..HMMMMM
    • What a Boondoggle
      I guarantee this plan goes nowhere. Why? Because if people use just 1/100th of their brain power, they wil see what a waste of money this is.

      Look at a city like Portland - which is totally different than Indy. They have spent Billions on public transit. They have buses, light rail, commuter rail, streetcars, even gondolas! And guess what? Public transit has a mode split of appx. 10%. It is a joke. People - MAASSES of people, want to and do drive.

      The future is alternative fuels used to power a personal transportation vehicle. Not some system where you are a slave to a schedule, sit next to a person just released from jail, and a system that is run by and controlled by unions.

      Give this a try - Google any major transot system in America. Every system is either facing enormous rising costs and thus raising taxes, cutting service, and raising fares. Unions are extrememly overpaid, and threaten to strike when they don't get their way.

      If you support this issue, you are a 100% sucker.
    • Really?
      These comments about racism and cost per person are ridiculous.

      I will start out with the racism note... This rail line seems to have been based off of an already existing rail line, population densities, and traffic flow. This way they can start by constructing what should be the most used lines first and then branch out to other areas.

      On the note of paying $180 a year... This is the best investment Indianapolis could possibly be looking at. It will decrease the cost of living for many people, increase the city culture, provide better service, and boost the local economy (If you are too proud to ride the bus that is your own issue). The impact of this project will help indy realize what it has been missing out on. As Chris said, America's largest cities would completely shut down if their rail and bus halted. This 180 dollars a year is an investment for the youth of indianapolis assuring that they can eventually work in an Indianapolis with cleaner air, lower travel times, more jobs, and a better sense of community. What else could the government possibly do to assure this will happen?
      • FYI
        You didn't pay a thing for my childs education... I have all the receipts to prove it.. not to mention my child does not attend a public school so use that argument with someone you actually had the pleasure of supporting... As you said you only support yourself. That is your choice not to care about someone not mine. And please don't get it twisted I have never had any help from the State or You as a matter of fact because I work and pay my way and my family's way through this world. I refuse to pay for a whim the politicians have came up with. If you want to compete with another state then move there... I'm fine with the travel in Indiana I know it hard to believe but if you live in Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville then you have portrayed or lived beyond your means and they want everything seperate from Indianapolis.. Then so be it... You pay for it.
      • Racist?
        If you think this plan is racist, then you've obviously never been on West Washington Street:)
      • Tired Argument
        I've paid taxes for your kid's school while I have no kids of my own! We all pay for things that we don't necessarily use because it improves our community. Don't use the tired argument that "I'm not gonna use it, so why should I pay for it." If you insist on using that argument, then I expect to be reimbursed my tax money that went to your kids education!
        • Give Me A Break
          Seriously why should I pay an extra $180 a year. Get a Grant!!! I pay for insurance, I pay for gas, I pay for tires, I pay for upkeep, the government let the insurance companies raise my Health Insurance over 50 extra a monthy.. I have a question who the heck is going to pay my bills??? are we going to get a study on how to get my bills paid, Kid through school and pay the doctor bills oh lets not forget the Medications .... Better yet Why don't all of you politicians take it out of your wages cause quite honestly I'm really tired of you spending my hard earned money. Common people can't ride so why the He** am I paying for it...
          • Racist Rail Corridor Plans
            This rail corridor is racist!

            It does not involve going through low income areas on the north west side.

            To ameliorate this problem, consider adding a line that would go up along Guion road, (eventually to Z'ville).
            • Since When Did Roads Pay For Themselves?
              I don't get all of this..."it has to be subsidized, mass transit is a boondoggle." Um, wake up...our road and highway system is the biggest boondoggle of them all. We CONSTANTLY have to pump money into widening, repair, salt, maintenance...it never stops. Further, it reinforces our being held hostage for oil and damages the air quality in this pollution-riddled State.

              Indianapolis needs this more than anything...
            • Will Lawrence "Pay to Play?"
              The city of Lawrence still doesn't support IndyGo but the city is growing by leaps and bounds. LAWRENCE - You need to get involved. Your workers and residents need you!
            • We needed this 10 years ago
              Like other posters have stated, it's been all talk and no walk. With the millions spent on studies that money could've been spent laying new rail from 22nd St south to just south of Mass Ave (1.25 miles) and building a bridge over Mass., connecting to the Conrail line that runs to Union Station. If I was head of the Indiana Transportation Museum I would ramp up fund-raising efforts to get this leg done before the state rips up I-69 in 2013 and run trains from Noblesville, Fishers and possibly Castleton at 96th st Sams Club where they charge $30 per week to ride. Team up with Dunkin Donuts to provide coffee or what have you. The ITM has the equipment to do this and could actually make money with ridership along with the dinner car lease it could actually make money.
            • Let's do it!
              We need this to be a competitive city. Indy's transit system is way behind other US cities. I can't wait for the more frequent bus service. You've got my vote!
            • Mass Transit Is Needed
              If you shut down mass transit in Chicago, or New York, or Boston, or San Francisco, or other major cities, these cities would literally shut down. These cities cannot operate without mass transit. So, if your criterion for a successful service is that it is vital for a city to function, then mass transit is successful in a fair number of major U.S. cities.

              Your complaint seems to be about funding and costs. But, roads are subsidized with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes, and in many parts of the country, they are in terrible repair and congestion is very severe. Does this mean roads are not a successful public service and we should stop building or maintaining them? Of course not, and nor should we neglect to have quality mass transit.

              Any public service can be done in a poor manner, but that doesn't mean the service isn't needed or that there is something intrinsically wrong with the service itself. Indianapolis has spent billions of dollars on roads in the last few decades, and yet transit problems have not been resolved.

              No one is arguing to neglect roads or stop improving them, but people are waking up to the fact that roads alone are not the answer. Mass transit is a complementary transportation system to a good road network.
            • Good Idea
              Henry F. How is the mass transit system in the Chicago area a mess? I can agree that CTA has its problems here and there, but what about Metra? What is so messy about that? system...If mass transit was such a big "loser" in Chicago, then they would not keep expanding the lines. I guess mass transit in New York, & DC must be "big losers" too.

              The lines are very extensive in Chicago and even more so in New York and D.C. Also, the bus systems are not that bad (at least in Chicago) either.

              So please tell us. Why would mass transit be a "loser" for Indianapolis??
            • Are you kidding?
              $6.7 billion? Why does every idea cost so much money? The benefits will never outweigh the costs. The city should ditch the rail system and focus on improving and marketing the bus service. We already have a fleet of buses, employees, system, etc. With a few improvements that would not cost any where near $6.7 billion, I expect we could achieve many goals of increasing mass transit.
            • No way
              Name one place in the US where a mass transit system is not a big loser. Look at the mess in Chicago.
              • Transit System
                It seems mass transit is studied year after year with little or no progress ever being made. It time for the mayor to wake up and back this plan. Mayor Ballard is the most unprogressive mayor this city has ever had. Indianapolis should be embarrassed that this city is ranked 100 in mass transit. When Mr. Ballard was running for mayor he didn't feel light rail was important. He had no ideas for Indy GO or mass transit. It would be an excellent idea to link the airport with downtown and northest corridor. I also believe the IUPUI campus should be included with a Light rail stop as well.Students would be able to take take the train to school or there job at the new Wishard Hospital. If Indy really want's to be World class this should the first step in the right direction considering they are hosting the Superbowl in two years.
              • Minor payments
                The problem hit in Charlotte, where CATS has been "successful" is the amount of subsidy that is needed. They are using 50 million per year of dedicated tax flow, and want another 9 billion in tax money to build out the system they have already. The moment you add rail, BUS suffers. (Cut routes, decreased service). I *love* rail where it makes sense, but you need tens of thousands per square mile to make it work financially, so that the subsidies don't bankrupt the city and tax payers. Are you prepared to tack on another percent or two of sales tax on everything? Or a big chunk of income tax?
              • You'll Get to Vote
                Boomer, it's going to be held to a public vote, so you'll get your opportunity to weigh in. Also, no one is excited to "write checks" to this project, but I do think a fairly large number of people are willing to pay moderately higher taxes in return for new and better services. Indianapolis and Indiana have done everything on the cheap for years, and compared to cities of similar size and to most other states Indianapolis and Indiana have fairly low taxes and correspondingly rather low levels of public service. I guess some people think that is a fair trade-off, but I think many people are getting tired of poor public services and dilapidated and inadequate public infrastructure. As with everything in life, you get what you pay for, and I think a lot of people would be willing to pay a moderate increase in taxes for better and expanded public transit.
              • Where's the airport line?
                A downtown to airport line would be the only line guaranteed to be successful and the only line that would pay for itself with other than local money. But this proposal like all previous proposals has excluded such a rail line, and probably for the same reason as the others -- the taxi companies have found their way into this organizations pockets.

                So get rid of the obvious special interest tampering and create a truly self-sustaining and worthwhile system -- one that includes an airport to downtopwn rail line -- and I'll support it whole-heartedly.
              • Where's the airport line?
                A downtown to airport line would be the only line guaranteed to be successful and the only line that would pay for itself with other than local money. But this proposal like all previous proposals has excluded such a rail line, and probably for the same reason as the others -- the taxi companies have found their way into this organizations pockets.

                So get rid of the obvious special interest tampering and create a truly self-sustaining and worthwhile system -- one that includes an airport to downtopwn rail line -- and I'll support it whole-heartedly.
              • How Much is Enough?
                Another initiative wanting to feed at the public trough. No thanks. $180 a year might be chump change for the folks posting on this board, but that's not the point. They're a little late to the game. And a tax is not the answer. Everyone else here can start writing checks to the cause. Count me out.
                • and maybe even IndyGo will be improved
                  The Indianapolis transit plans have been a just talk year after year-- trying to promote sophisticated light rail systems while fostering urban development with no focus on corridor development and a dismal bus system. (Read that: no funding, no busses). For my part, Indy needs to start from the beginning and develop a high quality bus system-- build ridership, use computerized traffic management, and "do the simple things very well" before they start lifting up plans for yet another commuter rail system to serve the people in the northeast corridor. In a world-class city, you can get to the core and get to the airport from places besides Fishers and Castleton. I think we should look at who could ride and who would ride the transit system throughout the whole metro area. It will take many years to justify the ridership for a fixed-path mode of transit, and Indy is just not there yet.
                • For sure!
                  This should have been were we were back in 1990. Better late than never I guess. This has my vote.
                • They're Listening
                  The nice thing is that it starts with a strong bus system with frequent service. I've often said that has to come before rail.

                  I do agree with the mayor's oft-stated preference for airport rail before Fishers rail, though.
                • communications
                  $180 a year is reasonable and it's time Central Indiana moved into the 21st century with a commuter transportation system that will allow people to get to work and home again from outlying counties and the inner city. You can't add enough lanes to keep up.
                • YES!
                  It's time to stop the studies and do this. $180 is pennies compared to the positive economic impact from enhanced mobility -people being able to get to jobs and shopping, reduced commute times, and generally moving Indy toward a 'world class' city.
                • This should be a no-brainer
                  For an extra $180/year we could have a transit system that would likely save many people that much or more on car maintenance, gas, etc. Yes, please.
                • Worth the investment
                  An extra $180/yr to make sure we have a world-class transit system infrastructure that will help lead the country to reduced reliance on foreign oil? HECK YEAH!

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