Task force endorses regional taxes for mass transit

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After 30 years of government studies of a regional transportation system, an influential private-sector group on Wednesday is set to unveil its own plan that includes commuter rail and even toll lanes added to local interstate highways.

Backers of the comprehensive plan intended to also improve 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.

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 underway 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 a hub-and-spoke system used today. Such changes could reduce a 30-to-60-minute trip to 10 to 20 minutes.

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 new jobs and over $27 billion in additional regional economic output. The report estimates a 4-percent increase in 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.



  • Let the State Pay for It
    Indy: you're not that big of a city.

    Here's exactly what will happen. If you build the toll lanes and rail, they won't pay for themselves, then you'll beg the state coffers for the money to cover it. Just like Indy does for everything. Pay for your own stuff Indy. The rest of the state is tired of sending you our tax dollars.
  • batdawg
    It would be nice if we had some transportation within the county before we look to expand it...
  • Needs to be sooner
    Just analyze other major metro areas. Rapid transit has worked to their benefit and caused further expansion and corporations to move into the area. Take Atlanta and MARTA, it was expanded in the 80's when the city was still at $1MM population. How much have they grown and improved.
  • Yes, but quicker
    I vote YES for getting this project underway..and even quicker than proposed. Salute to the Mayor for his progressive stand on this issue. Yes, even "say no" GOP leaders should salivate at the biz/economic growth impacts (see data below from MassTransit). A slight bump in sales tax is painless compared to the benefits for our city and burbs...many will benefit (vs primarily the Irsay family w/new stadium). MassTransit is correct: attracting new biz and retaining current ones requires improved public transportation in addition to buses. Voting YES in Hendricks County!!!
  • Everyone Wins
    The implementation of mass transit will save everyone in air quality, commute costs for drivers (your time is worth something), a more equitable transportation system. If we only paid for what we used or wanted this country would look far different (not good) and for those who think that when they drive they pay their own way, where the check for you pollution, your payment to the general fund for the 14 billion that the highway trust fund has borrowed for the last two years and I could go on and on. It's not always about you because you are a member of a community.
  • Awesome
    Long awaited, and will support in as many ways possible.
    Thank you
  • left behind
    1. The benefits of a mass transit system are much further reaching than naysayers realize. When fortune 500 companies are making decisions about where to locate new offices, a major factor is the transportation infrastructure of the city. Young professionals don't want to drive in traffic for an hour to work everyday, employers know that, and if we don't give them adequate transit options then we can't expect the fortune 500 companies to locate offices here when places like Columbus and Cincinnati are already implementing light rail and streetcar lines that these companies want to leverage. "Investments in public transportation create nearly 51,300 jobs for every $1.25 billion invested, compared to 43,200 jobs for the same amount spent on new road and bridge projects."

    2. If Indianapolis loses our chance at obtaining these employers because of our lack of investment in our own city infrastructure, we will lose out on all of the tax revenue these companies would generate by being here. This is the only true way to build a strong tax base for city services while keeping individual citizens' taxes low - we can't always count on gifts from Lilly to subsidize our cheap tax base.

    3. Property values and new investment. Between 1997 and 2001 office properties served by DART Rail in Dallas increased in value by 53% over comparable office properties not served by DART. Residential properties rose 39% over those not served by light rail.

    4. If you think that people that don't ride mass transit receive no benefits and should not pay, then I propose we use toll roads and increased gasoline taxes to pay for our roads so that the people that use them actually pay for them. Currently everyone does. There should also be an doughnut county tax for all counties surrounding Marion County so that commuters who use our city streets actually help pay for their repair and maintenance.
  • Not another tax...
    Why should everyone pay a tax for a service that will support a select few?
  • Stir the pot
    Mass transit: From point A TO point B. Must have a way to get to point A first then at point B must find another mode to get to your destination. Then do the same thing to go home. How to fund this: More sales tax, more income tax, more county tax, more hotel/motel tax. These taxes will be in all 92 counties as mass transit is for everyone, even if only use it 1 time in 10 years. The DOLLAR BILL should be renamed the 93 CENT BILL. Personally, I don't care to pay taxes in place today that fund things that I will never use. Why would I want to pay more? Whoops, better stop that tax CAP bill!!! Why should anyone who won't be using the system or going to the games pay the bills? I thought we elected our gov't to govern not the private sector.
    • What: More Taxes??
      What movement(groups name)? I might want to join, I'm tried of getting taxed on "EVERYTHING". Soon we'll be taxed when babies are born!
    • Public Transporation
      This does make some sense. The money has to come from somewhere and those who benefit the most, whether they use it or not, will pay along with people passing through the area. This could work IF - and only IF - all taxes, tolls, and discretionary parts of fares are locked into a Public Transportation fund with not access to funds for other programs or expenses.
    • Bumpkins? Hardly
      Sorry...dont' call me a bumpkin for opposing this larger mass transit plan. Being a "grown-up" city does not mean being like other cities. It all looks good from the outside, but ask some of those cities about the increased fees for ridership and maintenance costs. It becomes a headache as much as sitting in traffic. We must improve what we have before we make the jump to a big mass transit system. We are not the "big city." And we have a bus system no one wants to ride because its ineffecient. I don't trust spending more tax money on mass transit until we learn how to run a bus system.
    • Extra lanes?!?
      I'm glad to see the issue being brought up again and look forward to the debate. However, the addition of lanes to I-69 will only encourage people to keep using their cars and not mass transit. Our interstates are still not very crowded (ever been to LA? South Florida?) so more lanes is the last thing we need.
    • Toll lanes? Try newer, cheaper tech
      Was just in Denver they replaced all their toll islands with an automatic system that reads license plates and sends you a bill in the mail. Put those in the most congested areas (for example the I-69/I465 interchange) to pay for mass transit to alleviate congestion & pollution in that area. Faster payback & costs a lot less than adding lanes to the highway.
    • Time frame
      Just look at the time frame...ridiculous. They have been producing study after study. And it's going to take 15 years before all three of these ideas are implemented?? Wow, we are just so far behind.
    • No New Taxes
      This is idea is being proposed by people who clearly have not experienced job lay-offs in their families or cuts in their household income. To propose any new tax increase at this time is just wrong. I'll vote NO on any new tax increase.
    • easier and cheaper solution
      Our area's population density does not even approach that of cities with successful mass transit. It will be a boondoggle. Instead, let's create incentives for people to live closer to work. Slow sprawl. Traffic problem diminishes.

      I'll brainstorm some incentives: Consolidate school systems, expand school choice, make more urban and suburban interstates toll roads, tax out-of-county residents who work in your counties (might be unconstitutional but when has that stopped our lawmakers), make it easier to build modern housing in historic districts.

      People who love to commute can pay for the roads, loss of farmland, etc. that their sprawl creates. The rest of us will have a better, denser city that someday might be able to support mass transit.
      The key word in Mr. O'Malley's article is "radical". This is a great scheme by radicals to create a huge new tax and bureaucracy that will never go away. Anyone really think this will cost $8 billion? A good rule for a government estimate is to triple it. Folks if you haven't heard, there's this movement in America that's fed up with high taxes, out of control spending and government bureacracy. You would do well to pay attention to it.
      • Additional Taxes
        As an alternative or supplemental taxing scheme, why not increase taxes or fee on anything to do with cars? Increase parking meter fees, parking tickets fee, parking lot prices, property taxes on surface lots and parking garages. It may not cover the total cost for mass transit but might help decrease rider fees and make it seem more appealing.
      • Toll lanes?!?!?!
        How can they expect to use revenue from extra toll lanes on I-69 and I-65 to pay for other services when it will take a good decade for the tolls to cover the cost of the construction of the new lanes themselves?!?!

        Bzzzzztttttt. Nope, not buying it!
      • Funds are available now
        This is long overdue, and perhaps now there will be more action than words. This city and State must get into the 21st century with a modern transportation system that supports not only the local economy, but provides support regionally as well.

        INDOT has consistently turned a deaf ear to mass transit, yet they seem to be able to find the money to build a new terrain I-69 at a projected cost of over $3.1B+. There is right now, today, a $700M slush fund for I-69 that could be put to much better use than to build yet another highway that is certainly un-necessary and opposed by many.

        INDOT has cash that should be put to much wiser use. Mass Transit to, for, and around Indy will go a long, long way to helping everyone. It may also help others notice that we are moving towards smart and green transportation.
      • Disruptive Technology is Good!
        I think this bid needs a bit more creativity by attempting to cut it to at least $8 Billion.I do believe that Indiana needs this investment into transportation. We have a responsibility as the Crossroads of America and we should do all we can to keep our highways and interstates moving(with national help of course).
        In the case of Indianapolis there is definitely a need for better mass transit. Moving away from the Spoked system Indy has now is a key move. Another could be upgrading its buses. Fuel mileage makes a huge difference on public transportation and I know Indiana has recently brought an electric bus company recently to open up business here so why not support an in state company.
        Hopefully IndyGo is redone immediately to get people more used to mass transit before a rail system is put in. The culture will have to want it (not just need it) in order for rail to be a success in Indy.
        It sounds like alot more ideas need to be rolling on how the state and Indianapolis is going to pay for all of this. We are already known for being a cheap state to live and work in so some tax increase is acceptable in my opinion. On the state scale it will be mostly the business sector benifiting from improvements and in the case of indy the general public and downtown sales will receive the most benifit and taxing should reflect that. I cannot wait to see the actual report.
      • side benefits
        I know some might not want to pay for services they don't use. I submit there are benefits you will share with all central Indiana citizens-- cleaner air! You will benefit driving because people like me will be out of your way. So cheer up and help us make this the kind of city young professional adults move into instead of away from...
      • I'm already paying for your commute...
        Bumpkin, I pay for your choice to make a 42 mile commute.

        I walk to work while my taxes pay to maintain the roads you drive. Study after study show the road system is not funded by user fees, like your suggesting all other forms of transportation should be funded. So why do I pay for your chosen commute, when I could be living much cheaper if I did not need a car altogether. I understand you enjoy a 42 mile drive. I, on the other hand, don't enjoy the $6,000/year I put into my car. Our city won't survive if we fund essential services on user fees.
      • Local Only Invested Tax
        I wonder how much of this new transportation is going to be Green Energy useage? I believe that this should be brought to the vote of the people since they want more of our money. The majority of the population won't even use or benefit. One more Bad Idea.
      • Another way into my wallet
        I have no problem with mass transit so long as those of us who won't need to use it don't have to pay anyway near the same as somebody who uses it daily. My job requires me to get from near Mooresville to Castleton one day a week while telecommuting the rest of the week. No mass transit options available for me and I wouldn't expect such a route to be subsidized by anybody else. Perfect for a car. Unfortunately, it sounds like I will be paying the same amount as someone who rides it daily.
        Sports stadiums drive lots of revenue for the city. I don't see this driving revenue other than to tax coffers. I'll vote "no" unless the options are much more self-supporting than these options appear.
        • Hmmmm
          There has been endless years of talk. Unfortunately, I don't believe the people in this area want mass transit. I'll believe it when I see shovels in the ground.
        • FINALLY
          I am impressed as well. After wathcing a special about Detroit on WFYI last night on this very subject, I wondered about other Midwest cities like Indy who at one time had an extensive public transit system. Lets catch up and get the ball rolling on these projects. Pay for use lanes on interstates are not a new concept as other states like California, New York, Florida, etc have used them for decades. It's a great revenue generator especially for a project like this.

        • Yes, but...
          I'm enthusiastic about mass transit. I'm in favor of investing in areas of public good, such as public education and infrastructure development. I am altogether unenthusiastic of "economic development" schemes, such as public funding of sports complexes and worry, as the article suggests, that taxpayers will balk at a worthwhile investment, such as a forward thinking mass transit project, if elected officials continue to defend what many consider to be dubious decisions for public funding of stadiums.
        • Bring out the bumpkins
          Finally -- with mass transit, we can act like a grown-up city.

          But this is where the bumpkins come out against light rail. Instead of the obvious -- mass transit -- They want:
          -- More traffic lanes
          -- For more cars
          -- So they can get to where they are going and complain about America's dependence on foreign oil.

          Then, when gridlock reaches unbearable levels, they will complain that our short-sighted politicians didn't put in mass transit years ago.

          Fortunately, the bumpkins have not carried the day today.
          • proud
            SO proud to see the task force endorse a positive move toward mass transit! Hoosiers are capable of becoming world class citizens.

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