Mass transit backers regroup for next year

March 17, 2012

This was supposed to be the year when voters in Marion and Hamilton counties would have the chance to vote on a referendum for or against a regional mass transit system.

Despite years of intensive public and politician outreach, a transit bill died in the House Ways and Means Committee in late January by an 11-10 vote.

Ostensibly, the reason was insistence from bill sponsor and committee chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, that transportation workers of such a system couldn’t be forced to join a union.

However, during an election year, “there was general concern about whether they would be viewed as having raised taxes,” figures Ron Gifford, executive director of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force.

ron gifford Ron Gifford says lawmakers feared voters would view referendums as a tax increase.

Whatever the case, the task force now plans to redouble its efforts.

“We’re actively planning those activities we think we need to do in the next nine months and into the next session,” he said.

Those include one-on-one meetings with legislators and fact-finding trips to cities with successful transit systems—perhaps Charlotte, N.C.; Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.

Gifford wants to educate legislators on exactly what worked and didn’t work in those cities as far as expanded bus service and rail transit. The first such system for Marion and Hamilton counties is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.

If the Legislature OKs a referendum vote in the next session, the task force still has to convince the voters it’s worth an extra $12 or $13 a month in taxes.

Opponents question whether the region has the population density or transit-oriented mentality needed to support a bigger mass transit system.

Some also remain concerned about rising government debt and its tax implications. They fear a transit system would expand and become a burden on taxpayers in decades to come.

The initial central Indiana system would consist of bus-rapid transit in four corridors in both counties. The most expensive element would be a 22-mile rail line between Union Station and Noblesville atop the Nickel Plate rail corridor.•


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