Suburban cities may form regional group to fund transit route

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Four cities are considering creating an economic development group to obtain state funding for the first phase of a regional rapid-transit route for electric buses.

Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber on Monday night presented to the Westfield City Council the plan to create a “Regional Development Authority” involving Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis and Greenwood.

Once established, the development authority could apply for state grants for the first of five lines in the proposed $1.2 billion electric bus rapid-transit system known as “IndyConnect” under Gov. Mike Pence’s “Regional Cities” initiative.

Legislators allocated $84 million for the Regional Cities program over the next two years in the state budget. The money for it will come from a new state tax-amnesty program.

The Central Indiana Regional Development Authority would include Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis and Greenwood—the four cities the proposed 28-mile “Red Line” would travel through.

Last year, IndyGo received a $2 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Growth grant for environmental and design work on the $100 million Red Line. The route would run north to south and would include about 40 stations from Hamilton through Johnson counties. According to the operating plan, it would run every 10 minutes during peak hours.

The development authority, which would include five members, would receive any money granted from the state for the project. It would not have taxing power and there would be no cost to creating it. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization would staff the development authority temporarily.

Mark Fisher, vice president of government relations and policy development for Indy Chamber, said the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which will review the funding applications, is looking for regional projects that can show concrete results, like the Red Line.

“They want to see something come out of the ground,” Fisher said.

Huber said they’re hopeful that, if state funding is obtained through the Regional Cities program, they can use it as leverage for federal funding.

The Westfield City Council is expected to vote on the authority June 22. Carmel, Indianapolis and Greenwood will also have to pass similar resolutions.

Westfield Mayor Andy Cook spoke highly of the proposal Monday night, saying regional cooperation on projects is a new approach to economic development that could be successful.

“The state is beginning to recognize that there’s more to attracting companies than tax abatements,” Cook said. “It’s about quality of life so we can attract employees.”

Huber said the idea is that if a company locates in the Indianapolis area, surrounding communities could also benefit because employees could live in those cities or do other business there.

“A win for the region is going to be a win for any one of our cities,” he said.

Huber said other cities can be added to the authority over time, but the deadline to apply for regional city project funding is in August so the short time frame prevented including other communities.

“If the deadline were further away, you’d see a longer list [of cities],” Huber said.

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