Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, is hoping to get traction on two bills he has authored on hot-button Indianapolis transportation topics: the Interstate 65/Interstate 70 inner loop around downtown, and the prohibition on light rail projects in the city.
Both bills have been assigned to the House Roads and Transportation Committee, but no further action has been taken on either.
The interstate bill would prohibit the Indiana Department of Transportation from changing the current location of the inner loop if those changes involve above-grade walls and additional lanes of traffic.
“The goal is to make sure that neighborhoods along the proposed construction route are protected as best as possible. These are historic neighborhoods that are just now recovering from the original 65/70 going through,” Moed told IBJ Friday morning.
If the agency were to change the inner loop’s location, Moed’s bill would also require INDOT to consider connectivity and economic development issues; and to submit its plans to a review committee.
INDOT plans to reconstruct the Interstate 65/Interstate 70 interchange, commonly called the North Split, on the northeast side of downtown. INDOT expects to begin construction in 2020 at an expected cost between $225 million and $275 million.
In response to public input, INDOT said in September that it would not add extra through lanes to the interchange as it had originally planned. The agency also said its plans now call for the construction of retaining walls in certain areas that are only 7 to 11 feet high at the top of existing berms, rather than the much-higher retaining walls at the foot of the berms that it had originally proposed.
Moed said his bill would hold INDOT to its commitment regarding the north split, and set guidelines for future work on the south-split Interstate 65/Interstate 70 interchange southeast of downtown.
INDOT spokesman Scott Manning declined to comment on Moed’s bill, saying that as a rule the agency does not take positions on legislation.
Community opposition to INDOT's original plans was led by the local group Rethink 65/70, which subsequently has proposed an alternative vision for the entire downtown inner loop with through lanes that would run below ground. Paul Knapp, a leader of the coalition, told IBJ that the group was not consulted on Moed's proposal.
"From our perspective, it is well intended and it is good for legislators to take a close look at INDOT’s plans for the reconstruction of I-65/I-70," Knapp wrote to IBJ in an email while out of the country on a philanthropic mission. "INDOT has indeed amended their original plans for reconstruction of the North Split, and therefore the rest of the Inner Loop, which we applaud, but they have ignored the Coalition’s other two principles: use this once in a lifetime reconstruction to increase connectivity between neighborhoods ripped apart by the original interstate and use modern highway construction design to actually compact the footprint of the interstate, thereby creating 'new' land for future economic development."
Moed’s light-rail bill would lift the 2014 ban on light-rail construction in Marion and six other central Indiana counties. Moed authored a similar bill in 2018 that passed the House but died in the Senate after Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, added an amendment that would have required Marion County to first fix its potholes.
Moed said he’s optimistic about his light-rail bill’s chances this year for two reasons. Delph is no longer a state legislator, and Indianapolis’ failure to land Amazon’s HQ2 project shows the importance of public transportation in attracting economic development. Amazon included mass transit as one of the factors it would consider when selecting an HQ2 site.
The current ban on light rail, Moed said, is “very limiting, particularly as we look at the future with regards to attracting large employers. We should not limit ourselves and limit our thinking.”