Indy joins regional group to fund transit route

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Indianapolis has teamed with Carmel, Westfield and Greenwood to create a regional economic development group in an effort to win millions of dollars in state grants, potentially including funds for a rapid-transit route running through the four cities.

The City-County Council voted Monday evening 25-1 to join the three suburban cities to form a Regional Development Authority. Democrat Bill Oliver, who represents District 10 on the city’s near-east side, cast the lone “no” vote.

The Indianapolis area's RDA would apply for state funds through the Regional Cities Initiative. Signed into law in May, the new program will allow the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to award grants or loans to regional groups for infrastructure or amenity projects that could help attract businesses and people to those areas. Legislators allocated $84 million for the program over the next two years.

Officials with the Indianapolis-area RDA plan to pursue funding for the Red Line, a 35-mile bus line that ultimately would connect Westfield and Carmel through downtown Indianapolis before extending into Greenwood. Expected to cost $100 million, the Red Line is one of five routes in a proposed $1.2 billion electric-bus system known as IndyConnect.

“It’s well-known that access to transit is an important attraction for young workers, and the Red Line is the kind of ambitious project that will improve quality of life today as its appeals to tomorrow’s workforce,” Indy Chamber President Michael Huber said in a prepared release.

“Twenty percent of the region’s jobs are within a quarter-mile of the proposed route, and it connects major employers, college campuses and cultural destinations," Huber said.

The business advocacy group is completing a process for identifying and evaluating critical projects for the metro area; the RDA application is built on that process.

Other initiatives for the Indianapolis-area RDA could involve supporting the city's life-sciences industry and improving walkability, according to Indy Chamber.

Regional development authorities around the state are preparing proposals under the Regional Cities initiative to meet an Aug. 31 deadline for consideration in the fall.

Cities and counties around the state already have formed at least two RDAs. Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties have teamed up, and so have 11 counties around Fort Wayne, including Kosciusko and LaGrange counties.

The Clark County Council voted unanimously in June against joining the regional development authority proposed among Indiana counties and cities near Louisville, Kentucky. Council members raised concerns about giving too much control to an appointed five-member board.

The southern Indiana initiative's steering committee has discussed trying to ensure an adequate water supply and establishing Wi-Fi services in rural areas.

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