House panel votes to reverse Indianapolis-area ban on light rail

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A proposal to reverse the ban that has precluded Marion County and surrounding suburbs from building or acquiring a light-rail mass-transit project passed an Indiana House committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1080, authored by Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, passed the House Roads and Transportation committee 11-1. The proposal heads to the full House for amendments and a final vote.

Advocates say a repeal would be a step in the right direction as the city plans for future transit needs amid a time of economic growth.

“This is no longer Naptown,” Moed said. “Downtown Indy has grown. It’s alive. There are new restaurants, things to do. This is a growing city people are looking at moving to. We just need to make sure the city of Indianapolis and central Indiana have all the tools they need to grow.”

Former Gov. Mike Pence signed a law in 2014 expanding the ability for Marion and surrounding counties to seek voter permission to raise income taxes to fund mass transit, but it specifically banned light rail. Now, Moed said, it appears attitudes have changed.

The proposal comes shortly after Indianapolis became a finalist for Amazon’s HQ2 project. Amazon’s RFP states that access to transit, which it describes as “direct access to rail, train, subway/metro, [and] bus routes,” is a site requirement.

Moed said there are currently no plans to implement light rail at the city or county level, but the proposal “gives them the option.”

Moed said in the hearing that he believes one of the reasons Detroit was knocked out from the list of 20 HQ2 finalists was because of their lack of transit planning.

“It would be great if this were to give us an advantage in that effort, but whether it’s Amazon or any other major company that’s looking here, that’s going to be on their list,” Moed said.

Indy Chamber vice president Mark Fisher said Marion County is currently “doubling down” on transit by implementing a buildout of its bus service, with the bus rapid transit proposal and income tax increase that Marion County residents voted for in 2016.

“For us, it was about access to jobs, education and healthcare,” Fisher said. “As we grow, we want this as a tool in our toolbox.”

Dan Canan, executive vice president for OneZone of Hamilton County, the chamber of commerce group for Carmel and Fishers, said he was in support of the proposal. He said “there’s a real workforce issue” in Hamilton County with the ability for people to get to work.

“Any option, such as light rail, should be on the table,” Canan said.

Christian Maslowski, president at the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in support.

“We have had explosive population growth both in Greenwood and southern Indianapolis over the last 25 to 30 years,” Maslowski said. “How do we lift up our infrastructure to accommodate this new population? We have the opportunity now to look ahead. We know the Indianapolis region is growing. We can’t predict the future but would like to have that opportunity.”

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