Bill that targets Blue Line clears Indiana Senate, casting doubt on planned bus route

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Despite pleas from Democratic lawmakers, the Republican-controlled Indiana Senate voted to advance legislation Monday that public transit advocates say would kill the planned Blue Line bus rapid transit route in Indianapolis.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted 35-14 along mostly party lines to send Senate Bill 52 to the House, where House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, has indicated he is willing to hear the legislation.

Five Republican lawmakers sided with Democrats in opposing the bill. They were Sens. Ron Alting, Eric Bassler, Vaneta Becker, Travis Holdman and Kyle Walker.

The legislation would put a one-year moratorium on construction of dedicated bus-only lanes for the Blue Line, a delay that IndyGo says would further drive up costs and result in the city losing out on upwards of $100 million in federal funding that hinges on the transit agency using dedicated lanes.

The Blue Line would span 25 miles east to west along Washington Street and provide rapid transit access to and from the Indianapolis International Airport.

Bill author Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis who has attracted the ire of public transit advocates for filing legislation targeting IndyGo, is moving forward with his bill despite several Irvington businesses pulling their support for his legislation after hearing from some residents of the east-side neighborhood who believe a rapid-transit line offers economic and transportation benefits.

The legislation also would cause the city to lose out on related improvements, including construction of nine miles of new sidewalk, seven miles of road paving and stormwater drainage improvements along Washington Street, IndyGo Interim CEO Jennifer Pyrz told a committee of Senate lawmakers earlier this month.

Freeman said the one-year pause will give a state task force the opportunity to study the benefits of shared bus lanes versus dedicated lanes, but opponents say it’s a deliberate attempt to kill the project.

“If Senate Bill 52 passes, it will derail the Blue Line and all the good that will come along with it,” said Sen. Andrea Hunley, an Indianapolis Democrat. “It’s disappointing we’re subverting the will of the people here with this type of legislation.”

In addition to putting a moratorium on construction of dedicated lanes for the Blue Line, the bill would also extend the work of the Funding Indiana’s Roads For a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow Task Force to include discussions on the value of shared lanes and no-turn-on-red signs in downtown Indianapolis.

Freeman said Monday that committee will also consider the possibility of the state taking back control of Meridian and Washington streets, major Indianapolis thoroughfares which he said “have not been maintained.”

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49 thoughts on “Bill that targets Blue Line clears Indiana Senate, casting doubt on planned bus route

    1. Are you saying your wife would ride the bus and sell her car if there was a bus line on Meridian?…… because there is a bus line there. Maybe send the bill to Hogsett, he is in charge of the roads there.

    2. You can blame Hogsett as soon as the state of Indiana stops stealing money from Indianapolis. Until then? Blame a Marion County Republican like Freeman who sits on their hands when it comes to road funding.

      The fact remains IndyGo has done more for Marion County infrastructure than the Indiana GOP.

    3. That explains why every single pothole was filled on meridian from 38th to 75th today – I think enough complaints happened

    1. This is Indiana’s version of “own the libs”. This, despite the fact that Indianapolis accounts for 25% of that states GDP.

    2. It’s circular logic.

      Take road funding from Marion County and spread it around the rest of the state where people don’t live, keeping their taxes low and their roads nice. Blame Democrats for the roads of Indianapolis being in bad shape despite your lack of interest in giving them the money to fix the problem.

      Use the resulting underfunded infrastructure as an excuse to wrestle control of as many roads from Marion County as possible, ensuring that they’re designed to state standards and ignoring the desires of Marion County residents. Claim you fixed a problem that you yourself created.

      Some of you will fall for this.

  1. Love public transportation, in most forms. But I drive Washington street 3-4 times per week. Restricting to one lane is a horrible concept. I do not understand why we cannot develop “pull offs” for the bus stops, at lights, and then radio/proximity controlled overrides for the lights to allow the bus to depart in the light cycle first. It is extremely simple, and would be a great opportunity to also update non-working pavement sensors at the same time.

    1. Good to hear some logic SB! The all or nothing argument for dedicated lanes is a fairly shallow approach to resolving the issue. IndyGo needs to learn some negotiating and compromising skills.

    2. Where do you drive on Washington where more than one lane is genuinely required, aside from sections right around 465 and Downtown, which won’t be restricted to one lane? I lived on the near east-side for years and never experienced significant back-ups on Washington. There are multiple alternate routes on both the East and West sides that have more than enough capacity to handle any traffic that currently uses Washington.

      Your proposed solution also doesn’t sound cheap. The City would have to buy up land, relocate sidewalks and utilities, and replace all of the traffic lights. A lot of this is being done with the Blue Line, but the Feds are covering most of the bill. They would not cover any of your proposed plan, so how does the City pay for it? Is the GOP going to fund it from State funds?

    3. Let’s build canals and transport the 3 or 4 IndyGo riders in the most expensive non efficient way.
      Wait, even better, lets take away traffic lanes and but Chinese busses to move them. Even more expensive.

    4. If this bill were to become law, and it is still a big if, it is simply going to be nothing for Irvington or for a line to the airport.

      IndyGo will lose its federal funding for the dedicated lane project, and a reconfigured shared lane project will be too big to qualify for the pot of federal funding available for shared lanes, not to mention there are numerous projects much further along vying for those same highly competitive grants.

      The Blue Line route has been studied for YEARS and the project has been subject to *numerous* public meetings over those years. There is nothing to be gained from a year delay except to lose many millions of federal funding.

      Washington Street under current traffic conditions is significantly over-engineered and has a large amount of excess capacity. The truth is *no* project will make everyone happy, and some people will be inconvenienced and have to adapt—that is life. But, *local officials* are in the best position to make those tough calls. With all the *many* problems the State of Indiana faces, the General Assembly has no business wasting taxpayer time and money meddling in the *local* decision making process of where a bus line should run. It is *ridiculous*, regardless of whether you support or oppose the current Blue Line project.

      The good news for those who support the Blue Line is that previous versions of Freeman’s bill have got this far in the General Assembly only to die later in the legislative session.

      Those who support the Blue Line can keep up the fight to kill the bill and/or to get a veto from Holcomb, who has not been afraid to go against the General Assembly in the past. If the General Assembly does not stay in its lane (pun intended), then Holcomb should show them the off ramp.

    5. The engineering, public comment and referendum on these issues have all been held. If you drive WashSt often, you’ll quickly see this: lane-hoppers and speeders make it downtown maybe 2-3 minutes ahead of everyone else. And they drive like maniacs, causing crashes, injury and even death. Slowing down traffic is a wonderful goal that can coincide with the new bus line.

      It’s virtually impossible to do pull-offs….acquiring land rights would be extensive, expensive and cause delays. Millions in federal funds are ready for the Blue Line, and eastsiders overwhelmingly want it.

      Except, of course, the good senator.

      Legislators who vote for this ought to be ashamed.

  2. A bill that tells Indianapolis what to do, from people who do not live in or represent Indianapolis, and which will prevent federal funding that again does not come from them or their constituents…

    This state is dying.

  3. The plan is to kill bus rapid transit. Pence make light rail illegal. Now Freeman wants to make bus lanes illegal. So, essentially, this is a bill to forbid any type of rapid transit. It is vindictive and nasty. But, more importantly it shows how a group has taken aim at a project with any review of its benefits. Not one individual sponsoring and supporting this legislation has read the traffic report nor have they review the design drawings for the Blue Line which includes both dedicated and shared lanes.

    Indianapolis and IndyGo did not receive federal dollars just because they asked. The city and IndyGo applied to the Federal Transit Administration, and met national criteria to receive federal capital funds, approximately 50% of the construction cost. Indianapolis competed against other cities nationwide to do so. IndyGo was successful in receiving funds that would have gone to other cities.

    FTA funds rail and bus major transit projects only if the projects provide an advantage for transit users, such as significant travel time improvement. Hence, for bus rapid transit projects, at least 50% of the project length must be in dedicated lanes for key periods of the day. The Red Line is an example, dedicated lanes along Capital and Meridian will be shared with Purple Line, a single bi-directional lane on College preserved parking and minimized street widening (bear in mind that before the bus lane College was an asymmetric cross sections with two lanes southbound and one lane northbound and no protected left turns), and the southside Red Line operates in mixed traffic.

    Engineering studies have resulted in roadway changes nationwide where 4 or 5 lane arterials such as Washington or modified to one lane in each direction with protected left turns. This is exactly the plan for Washington.

    With dedicated bus lane, the travel time difference for driving along Washington Street between Arlington Ave and downtown, approximately 5 miles, would be less than 5 minutes and the bus travel times would improve by 30%.

    Indianapolis is traversed by massive freeways which provide dedicated lanes for drivers. Once I-70 and I-65 were completed, traffic volumes decreased significantly on key arterials, including Washington, Michigan, New York, College,, Central,, Delaware, Meridian, Illinois, Capitol, Shelby, 30th and 38th. Why not use the additional capacity for a roadway that accommodates traffic safely and improves transit.

    Note also that if there were an emergency, [dedicate] bus lanes could be used by general traffic.

    Should the project be killed, the federal dollars will disappear and no improvements to Washington Street will occur. And, if the dedicated lanes are returned to general traffic, Indianapolis and IndyGo would have to reimburse the FTA for the capital grants received.

    Why the vitriol. Why the hate of Indianapolis and its residents, particularly those who use transit. IndyGo, finally, after 40 years of underfunding and poor planning stemming from the Goldsmith administration, finally is making improvements just to catch up with nearby peer cities — Columbus OH, Cincinnati, Louisville — all of which have supported transit to provide a significantly more robust transit network compared to Indianapolis. For 40 years, Indianapolis was rock bottom in transit rankings. And perhaps many in the Statehouse do not care as they do not used transit. But many people do use and need transit in Indianapolis. No, transit is not important for Fishers or Carmel or other areas, but it is important for Indianapolis and its citizens who voted to tax themselves for transit improvements. So it is unfair, undemocratic and as stated earlier, just simply mean and vindictive to use a bully pulpit in the Statehouse as a workaround to thwart the will of the people . Why.

    So what is the proposal from the Statehouse that would effect efficient and faster transit and maintain all traffic lanes. Was there an analysis to determine if the lanes are actually needed for traffic. Perception is not reality. One entreaties Freeman and other to read traffic reports regarding the design at hand. One can drive Meridian and College and Illinois and Capitol.

    Regarding Washington Street and ;the Blue Line design, yes design tweak can be made to ensure vehicular traffic moves as fast and current. Many options exist, and all comprise trade-offs. One can consider a peak direction bus lane, in this case the center lane on Washington would be bus only inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon; buses would operate in mixed traffic in the non-peak direction (issue: widen street at station areas so traffic is not stopped behind bus and clear delineation of where left turns may occur). Or, implement curb side bus lane that can be shared with right turns; maintain center two-way left turns or implement protected left turns throughout corridor, or make center lane reversible for vehicular traffic so that 2 lanes always available for peak direction traffic (issue, station cost increases and accommodation of safe left turns via signals and signage). Or, widen street (issue: impacts and costs of extensive property acquisition).

    Washington Street is higher ridership route. It is a prime transit corridor, It deserve improvements for transit users. Currently, the street is entirely auto-oriented. Why not a compromise to effect transit betterments. Rather than forego monies forthcoming for the Blue Line, why not proceed with study and tweaks to ensure efficient commingling of transit and traffic that incorporates sufficient aspects bus rapid transit design to maintain FTA capital grant funding. Yes, consider more traffic signal improvements; yes, consider additional short segments of widening at key locations and intersections to facilitate traffic efficiency; yes, do monitor all bus rapid transit route to ensure that neither traffic nor buses are adversely affected. If Freeman and like-minded at the Statehouse would (a) considered current analysis, (b) identify specific issues to be resolved (rather than just proposing, without any data-driven analysis, to make X illegal), and (c) consider establishing scheduled performance assessment and guidelines and ongoing monitoring for BRT corridors vis-a-vis the traffic travel time vs bus travel time conundrum.

    The GOP platform has always maintained that buses can perform as well as rail in most metros, particularly medium sized metros. And,, honestly, BRT is the right solution for rapid transit in Indianapolis considering its urbanization characteristics and that IndyGo is a city-only rather than regional system (unlike Columbus OH, Cincinnati, and Louisville where bus networks serve the entire region). Light rail and streetcar are illegal in Indiana compliments of earlier legislation. Oddly, commuter rail and and new extension to serve Munster does not come under Statehouse scrutiny despite the single 8 mile extension being as costly as all BRT in Indianapolis and with no more riders. The national is watching as Indianapolis [almost] is proving that cost-a effective bus rapid transit based system does work in a medium sized metro (city in this case). Indianapolis is not alone with bus rapid transit and dedicated lanes — other peer transit cities include Grand Rapids MI, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Eugene OR.

    Still . . . . why the effort to ensure Indianapolis is mediocre. The Statehouse should support the capital city to be better, to excel, to be profitable, to be attractive. And that should not be partisan.

    1. Good info and arguments Derek, but the narrow minded little thinkers like Freeman wouldn’t bother reading past the first paragraph.

  4. Indy doesn’t get it. The city makes great strides in one area and take two steps backwards in others. If Indy is to grow like Austin, Nashville, Charlotte and other peer cities, we have to think bigger than what we have in the past. Insufficient transit was definitely a reason Amazon bypassed Indy on building its HQ2 here. There’s not even plans in the future for light rail. Dont wait till the population increase to then think about dealing with the growing pains. The city needs to start developing now for growth so that it doesn’t catches us unprepared in the future and transit as well as better infrastructure is key for Indy to compete with its peers. This is why Indy keeps getting overlooked because of the simple mindset some politicians have in office in this state.

  5. All of you bus line apologists, I’d point you to the Red Line and its historical data. I have been watching the Red Line traffic closely as I live in close proximity to two major stops. I have yet to see more than 3 people on any one bus in the last 4 years. I’m no urban planning genius, but I would bet my house it’s lost $10s of millions of dollars in IN tax money. The disruption along all of College Avenue with cement barrier medians, added traffic lights, and single lane traffic has nullified any semblance of improving transportation on the north side of Indy. And it’s sucking the life out of infrastructure tax dollars supporting these electric busses that are seemingly broken all the time.

    1. 7 million riders a year. I guess you’re not watching when it counts, like the times of day people go to and from work.

    2. Watching the Red Line from your window isn’t not “historical data.”

      The ACTUAL, publicly available historical data shows 100,000 riders per month and 45% YOY ridership growth.

    3. I live near the 54th stop and ride it all the time. At the times I ride it’s quite busy. The furthest ends of the line there are generally less people but that’s to be expected. If you’ve lived in another city with mass transit you know vehicles fill up as they get closer to the city center and empty out as they get out into residential areas. A bus that has 4 people in Broad Ripple is full once it gets downtown.

      My experience in terms of traffic in the area having lived here before and after the red line is that traffic is the same but the pedestrian experience, street parking and safety were vastly improved.

      I would also add that many studies indicate Mass Transit is a key amenity for attracting young professionals and new businesses. As an example I know at least one development in Broad Ripple has sited the red line as a reason for investing there.

    4. I just looked out my office window at the Red Line stop in Fountain Square, 10:30 am on a Tuesday, and there 16 people waiting for the bus. All of you bus line denigrators are not interested in actual data or investment for future growth.

    5. You have to be kidding me. I drive College every day to get to work downtown and and the bus lanes are no problem. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and with the road improvements that accompanied the Red line, traveling College is better than ever. I just wish I lived close enough to a stop to make the bus an option for me but I don’t resent it just because I don’t use it like most of the complainers on here who have no idea what they are talking about.

  6. I lived in Irvington for 5 years. Washington St. rarely has traffic. outside peak hours near downtown. The Blue Line would be amazing and riding directly to the Indianapolis Airport? Game changer for travel. This bill is terrible.

  7. As a Republican, I thought all of Indy’s problems were the result of Hogsett’s ineptitude. Silly me. I didn’t know that the equally inept 150 mayors (I mean statehouse legislators) were also the problem. Unfortunately, it is a virtual impossibility to get more political balance both at the city level as well as the state. Very, very sad.

    1. Yup. Indy effectively can’t govern itself because everything requires the blessing of legislators who don’t live here and don’t understand our problems.

    2. Or, worse, legislators who do live here and, unable to convince voters of the benefit of their ideas, just impose them at the state level.

      Aaron Freeman could have stayed on the CCC or run for mayor. He left as soon as Republicans lost the majority on the CCC. Freeman has a real problem with people who don’t just submit to his wisdom.

  8. I recall when the Indiana lottery was approved, and the funds were to go to roads, infrastructure, park improvements, community maintenance…all for the greater good. What happened to that? Whose pockets are these funds landing? There never is honest transparency or logic in any government involvement. Let the people vote… host a referendum.

    1. Whatever infrastructure money is generated goes disproportionately to rural communities, which is a major reason streets are so bad in Indy.

    1. I ride the bus almost daily.

      And that’s cool, but the love of your car (I hate driving) has nothing to do with the outcome. IndyGo doesn’t even go to the collar counties because the collar counties refuse to fund transit. Nobody is asking for people in the suburbs to give up your car, we’re just asking for better bus infrastructure and service.

    2. I ride regularly for a variety of reasons. Also I gotta say as a suburbanite if you’re attending big events downtown and not using the red line you may be missing out. I have suburban Carmel friends who go to football games with me they park at my place a few blocks from college we sometimes head to a restaurant then we take the red line downtown thus completely avoiding game day traffic and parking. Everyone that comes agrees it is a much better experience.

  9. Scrap the linear and limiting bus lines with their lane restrictions and expensive shelters and invest in more types of busses (gas, electric, big and small) to reach more people where they live. Our bus system should be a centipede style approach covering most main thoroughfares and not an east-west-north-south system. Change the input to change the output! Think different!

    1. The light rail was supposed to run through the Carmel business district and into downtown. The state said no rail. Just one example of poor metro planning hurting transit

    1. And…that’s exactly what separated bus lanes do. Make commutes better, avoids sudden jam-ups behind slowing/stopped buses in the curb lane.

  10. The residents of Indianapolis voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves to build the BRT lines and improve public transit in a perfectly legal referendum. Now the State Legislature is silencing our votes. Isn’t there some legal action we can take against this slimy maneuver?

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