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IndyGo's hopes remain alive for federal Red Line funding

May 1, 2017

IndyGo may yet receive at least part of the $75 million in federal grant funding it has awaited for more than a year for its Red Line rapid-transit bus project.

The U.S. House’s $1 trillion-plus spending plan, crafted over the weekend, includes $50 million in federal grant money for the Red Line.

“It’s a big win for Indianapolis,” said Jessica Gail, a staffer for Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis, who has been a proponent of Red Line funding. “The congressman’s very happy to see the project in the agreement.”

In a statement released Monday, Carson said, "Modernizing transit for Indianapolis residents is critical for our city's continued economic development and growth. The Red Line will be the backbone of our future transit system and a major step forward for our city and Central Indiana."

It’s too early, however, to say whether the proposed $50 million in IndyGo funding will be approved.

“It’s only Monday. It’s early in the game,” Gail said.

The House still must vote on the budget bill, Gail said, and if it passes the House it will move to the Senate for a vote. If it passes there, it next moves to President Donald Trump for his signature.

This is all expected to happen by Friday, when a short-term budget resolution designed to keep the government running is set to expire. 

In February 2016, the Federal Transit Administration recommended the Red Line project for a $75 million grant as part of that agency’s Capital Investment Program, also known as New Starts. That grant would cover most of the cost of building the Red Line between East 66th Street at College Avenue and the University of Indianapolis.

The grant’s status has been in a holding pattern since then because of congressional and administrative transitions. Funding has especially been in question since March of this year, when President Donald Trump released the “Budget Blueprint” outlining his funding priorities for the 2018 federal budget. 

In that document, Trump proposed cutting U.S. Department of Transportation funding by 13 percent. It also proposed ending funding for the federal grant program from which Red Line grant funding was to be drawn.

The fact that the House spending plan includes only $50 million rather than $75 million is “not necessarily” a reduction in the amount the Red Line could eventually receive, said IndyGo Director of Public Affairs Bryan Luellen.

In funding discussions last year, Luellen said, the possibility was raised that the Red Line funding might come over two years: $50 in the first year, with $25 million in the second year.

“This is consistent with that,” Luellen said.

The federal grant is not the only source of funding for the Red Line project.

In February, the Indianapolis City-County Council approved a 0.25 percent income tax designed to raise money for local transit improvements. Tax collections begin in October, and IndyGo says the tax will generate at least $54.4 million a year starting in 2018.

IndyGo has said that it can still build the Red, Blue and Purple lines and make other transit improvements even if the federal Red Line grant doesn't come through. Without the grant, IndyGo says, the improvements would take longer to finish and would be slightly scaled back.

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