Abandoned toll-road push might not help mass transit

Leaders of Indianapolis’ mass transit movement don’t expect to benefit—at least not immediately—from Gov. Mitch Daniels’ giving up on his push to build the Indiana Commerce Connector toll road.

“I never felt they were either/or projects, said City-County Councilor Joanne Sanders, a Democrat and vice president of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority. “They both could exist in the same universe.”

Daniels said Saturday public support was not great enough to warrant continuing the project, which would have resulted in a 75-mile bypass around Indianapolis’ eastern and southern flanks. The toll-road would have been built and managed by a private company.

Critics had complained that the road was proposed over mass transit that could have alleviated pressure on interstates 69 and 465 that the bypass was proposed to address.

Led by CIRTA, local mass transit advocates are trying to sway legislators, the Indiana Department of Transportation and Daniels, a Republican, with a general education campaign.

On March 21, they testified in a joint hearing of the Indiana House Roads and Transportation Committee and the House Environmental Affairs Committee about mass transit’s potential benefits for central Indiana commuters and air quality.

Sanders said the collapse of the Commerce Connector initiative could open a path for new mass transit funding if Daniels diverts some of the $3.8 billion raised by the Major Moves toll road lease. Meanwhile, CIRTA has commissioned Crowe Chizek to study potential sources of mass transit financing. Its report is due by the first of June.

But it is extremely unlikely that mass transit will secure new money during this year’s General Assembly because CIRTA isn’t in a position to ask. Before it can, it must complete a report projecting passenger patterns of a new mass transit system. That report isn’t due until summer.

“We knew going into this session that we wouldn’t be able to make any [funding] requests,” Sanders said. “But [last week’s] hearing went well. It opened another door to communication with various levels of government. Mass transit wasn’t on their radar screen. Now committee members have a better understanding.”

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