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Transit tax wins City-County Council OK, clearing final hurdle

February 27, 2017
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Justin Stuehrenberg, right, IndyGo's director of special transit projects, celebrates with a transit-tax supporter after the vote. (IBJ photo)

The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night voted 17-8 to approve the Marion County transit tax, setting the stage for major improvements to the city’s bus service.

The tax increase, which goes into effect in October, will cost a resident with $100,000 in taxable income about $250 a year.
 
IndyGo says the additional tax will generate at least $54.4 million annually starting in 2018. Money will be used to implement the Marion County Transit Plan, which calls for adding buses, adding drivers and building three rapid-transit bus lines. Planning for the first phase of one of those rapid-transit lines, the Red Line, is under way. The first phase of the Red Line will run from East 66th Street and College Avenue south to the University of Indianapolis.

It's not known yet, however, how quickly those improvements will roll out.

IndyGo officials are hoping to receive a $75 million Federal Transit Administration grant, which would cover most of the cost of building phase one of the Red Line. Federal transit authorities recommended the project for funding a year ago, but the grant is tied up in congressional and administrative transitions.

Even if that grant falls through, IndyGo says it can make its planned improvements, but the upgrades would be slightly scaled back and take longer to implement. The city would also have to issue a bigger bond to finance the project.

With the federal grant, IndyGo says it would issue $80 million in bonds and could implement the Marion County Transit Plan by 2022. 

Without the grant, IndyGo says it would issue $176 million in bonds and would take until 2026 to implement the transit plan. Some parts of the plan, including certain infrastructure upgrades along the bus rapid-transit routes, would be scaled back.

Among the councilors voting "no" to the transit tax was Joseph Simpson, who said he doubts the transit plan will truly benefit poor people. Also voting "no" were Stephen Clay, Jeff Coats, Susie Cordi, Jason Holliday, Brian Mowery, Christine Scales and John Wesseler.

Councilor La Keisha Jackson, who voted "yes," cited her experiences as an IUPUI student as an example of why better bus service is necessary. She said a trip from her east-side home to school would take two hours each way.

Yet Jackson said she will be scrutinizing the plan's progress. "I will be looking at you, IndyGo."

Next, the tax goes to Mayor Joe Hogsett for his signature. At a committee meeting last week, the mayor’s chief of staff, Thomas Cook, said Hogsett would sign off on the tax increase if it passed. 

Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer, who cast a "yes" vote, said the council's work is only beginning. She said members now must make sure the additional money is used for best results. 

"This vote does not just end it," she said.

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