Bill to lift Indianapolis-area ban on light rail goes off track

A proposal in the Indiana Legislature to reverse a ban that prevents Marion County from developing a light-rail mass transit project appears to be dead.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, declined to call up House Bill 1080, which he sponsored in the Senate, for amendments on Monday afternoon before the Senate’s deadline. The ban was approved in 2014 and it restricts public spending on light-rail projects in Marion and surrounding counties.

Previously, the proposal had faced smooth sailing throughout the legislative process, passing the full House 95-0. But Indianapolis’ ongoing pothole problem created an opening to amend the bill.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, filed an amendment on the bill that would have precluded the county from spending public money on a light-rail project until the county has “substantially remedied the pothole problem” and developed and implemented an “acceptable written plan” to remedy potholes during future winter seasons.

Merritt could not immediately be reached for comment, but Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, slammed the decision not to advance the bill, saying Republicans “chose to play politics instead of working on job creation.

Moed said the long-term impact of the bill could have helped Indianapolis leaders attract companies like Amazon that want to see public transportation and other commuting options in communities they locate in.

"Our region has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to attract thousands of jobs for Hoosiers in need of work, but I am disappointed that the long-term benefits of this legislation were sacrificed for short-term political gain,” Moed said. “Ease in transporting workers and potential customers is important to these corporations, and we must understand that mass transit should be part of those discussions.”

Moed said he would try to “revive” the bill before the end of the session if there was an opportunity, but those prospects are uncertain.

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