Blue Line ‘on life support’ after transit bill advances in Indiana House

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Indiana State Rep. Blake Johnson fought back tears Tuesday as the time for a committee vote came on Senate Bill 52, a Republican-authored bill that leaders of Indianapolis’ public transit agency say could kill a planned mass-transit bus line in his district.

Johnson, a Democrat, watched planning for the IndyGo Blue Line progress during his time as a member of the Indianapolis City-County Council from 2016-2020.

I feel like I’m in the same hearing all over again, except this time, instead of winning dramatically, I’m losing dramatically,” Johnson told attendees. “And so that, you know, sucks.”

His Republican colleagues, including Committee Chair Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prarie, commended Johnson’s hard work on the issue. But, ultimately, all Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the bill, passing it 9-4 to the full House.

SB 52, authored by Republican State Sens. Aaron Freeman and Michael Young, would put a one-year moratorium on both the usage of dedicated lanes for mass-transit projects and the installation of no-turn-on-red signs in Indianapolis.

Because the Federal Transit Agency ties funding for transit projects to the usage of dedicated lanes, IndyGo interim CEO Jennifer Pyrz has testified that a one-year moratorium could result in the loss of federal funding and end the Blue Line.

Johnson spoke directly to Cassandra Crutchfield, the mother of  7-year-old Hannah Crutchfield, who died when they were both hit by a car crossing the street on the way to school.

“To Cassandra Crutchfield, who looks to us to ensure that tragedy doesn’t have to happen again thanks to significant traffic slowing, and to voters who, by a large margin, tax themselves to pay for transformative investment, this is really, really, really bad public policy,” Johnson told his colleagues.

Similar legislation has been introduced in recent years, usually authored by Freeman. Multiple versions have crossed Pressel’s desk, but this is the first of those measures to pass out of the House Committee on Roads and Transportation.

“It’s never even gotten the [committee] hearing except for one time four years ago, so I struggle with it as a whole,” Pressel told IBJ last week, after a committee hearing included three hours of testimony mostly from those against the bill.

Johnson said the legislation puts the Blue Line “on life support.”

Locals have been outspoken against the legislation, which some view as overriding the 2016 IndyGo referendum vote that passed with nearly 60% of voters in favor.

Last week, Indianapolis Department of Public Works Director Brandon Herget testified against the legislation, stating that the department has deferred maintenance on Washington Street in anticipation of a planned $150 million in federal funding into the infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Indianapolis City-County Council member Jesse Brown, a Democrat representing District 13 on the near-east side, testified against the legislation. At an earlier committee hearing, Democratic Councilor Andy Nielsen, who represents District 14, spoke out against it.

In voicing his opposition to the bill, State Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, noted that he and most other lawmakers don’t represent or live in Indianapolis, which the bill had already been amended to solely impact. He said it isn’t their jobs to change what Indianapolis voters have decided.

“I have a real problem changing that knowing what people that live here have already voted on and what they want,” Harris told the committee.

Amendment makes bill specific to Indy

Two amendments to the bill filed by Pressel, the committee chair, passed along party lines.

One specified that the legislation applies only to Indianapolis. This came after leaders from transit agencies in Bloomington and Lafayette testified in committee a week ago, citing concerns that the measure could affect future advancement of their own bus systems. They also said it could have a chilling effect on the Federal Transit Agency’s investments in Indiana public transit projects.

An amendment by Pressel that would require bus operators to honk the horn or bell as they approach an intersection to alert pedestrians passed by a voice vote.

He cited the Red Line on Capitol Avenue, where the bus runs in both directions on the one-way street and pedestrians might only look toward the oncoming car traffic without checking the bus-only lanes.

Several amendments from Johnson failed due to a lack of support from Republicans on the committee.

One would exempt the Blue Line from the legislation. He called it both an “opportunity to make good on what the author said was his goal of the bill” and “protect significant investments.”

Pressel said there’s no guarantee that the Blue Line is going to receive federal funding.

Another amendment from Johnson would have required that the state compensate for lost funds with payments to the city of Indianapolis and IndyGo. Under the amendment, $150 million would be paid to Indianapolis’ Department of Public Works to compensate for lost federal funding, plus an additional $5 million for planning costs. The state would be required to give an additional $15 million to IndyGo for costs related to planning and preparation for the project.

That amendment would have only gone into effect if the funding was indeed killed by the moratorium on dedicated lanes.

“The reality is, it is quite likely we would receive $150 million in grants on this project,” Johnson said. “We’ve received quite a bit of federal dollars on the other two phases of this project, and it is an absolute certain fact that we already spent tens of millions of dollars in preparation and planning to move this project along, so those are sunk costs now.”

Pressel said the federal funding is currently only theoretical, since IndyGo has not yet signed a deal with the Federal Transit Agency. Pyrz, interim CEO of IndyGo, confirmed that, but said that federal officials have encouraged IndyGo to begin spending money and eventually be reimbursed. Unless IndyGo no longer follows the parameters of the grant program, Pyrz said the agency is almost sure to receive funds.

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42 thoughts on “Blue Line ‘on life support’ after transit bill advances in Indiana House

  1. It’s such a ridiculous excuse to pose this as a ‘road funding’ debate. SB52 is harmful, and a sign of bad governance. Indiana’s statehouse is a joke.

  2. This is the type of legislation that furthers Indiana’s brain drain. All of my friends who left after college have no intention of returning. I have a handful of friends who remained, and are trying to leave. I have exactly two friends from college who stayed and are happy.

    For those of us who are progressive, there is no reason to stay in Indianapolis. Every bit of success you achieve in moving the city forward is taken away by legislators from declining areas who care nothing about Indy, or angry MAGA suburbanites.

    I am so happy to be done with the ridiculous politics in Indiana. This legislation is just another example of MAGA using power to oppress people they don’t like. If you don’t believe in totalitarianism, vote for Democrats this fall. This is a small microcosm of what they’re going to do across the United States.

    1. Where are they moving, Wesley? California?

      Even amidst your fellow eggheads in Silicon Valley, isn’t the demographic profile of BART users leaning increasingly toward schizophrenics and fentanyl addicts? They may not be a majority, but the fact that they’re a significant minority is making transit in California increasingly unappealing for people with cars…and most folks in Lalaland and the Bay Area love their cars. Meanwhile, trhe states with the biggest metros in the country–California, New York, and Illinois–are all LOSING population. Statewide.

      Trust me, Wesley, knowing that there are people like you moving to places where public defecation is like a sacrament makes Indiana look more and more appealing. But what does a hick like me know? I left when I was young, largely dismissing Indiana the way you do every time you post here, and then came back when I realized the ratio of arrogant idiots was pretty much the same everywhere.

      Mark my words: “progressive” is just a term of self-aggrandizement. Everyone likes “progress”, Wessy; they just define it differently from you. But only a small subset are egotistical enough to think they are the standard-bearers for progress so they they refer to themselves as such. Let’s face it: the self-proclaimed “progressives” are bringing about the appalling conditions that characterize urban America in 2024, and they deserve every single carjacking they’re getting.

    2. Didn’t read past your first line Lauren. Most of them are in Chicago. A couple are in New York. One is in Seattle. One in the Bay Area. Two in Austin. One in Miami. One in SLC. That’s all I know off the top of my head. Life is too short to read the rest of your rant. Save those posts for Truth Social lol.

    3. I love that the only thing Lauren hates more than Indiana is other states that aren’t Indiana

    4. Look at all these “schizophrenics and fentanyl addicts” who can get their stuff together enough to (1) subscribe to the IBJ (not exactly the Red Party Gazette), (2) read the articles, and (3) have actual coherent opinions! Imagine that. I’ll bet the commenters here who favor decent public transportation don’t find “public defecation” to be “like a sacrament.” Holy hell. I came here for the business news, not bat-guano crazy MAGA rants. If I wanted that I’d look up someone’s crazy uncle on Facebook.

  3. The Blue Line has been dead for months because Aaron Freeman is still embarrassed his own bill to stop right turn on red was so poorly written that the city of Indianapolis ignored it, and he wanted revenge. Good for Johnson to introduce a bunch of amendments to show how Republicans don’t actually mean what they say.

    Nice to have a guy in Pressel from a town with no stoplights determining road policy for the state of Indiana. His ignorance and ineptitude shows through every time he talks.

  4. I’m genuinely a fan of the Red Line, as infrequently as I’ve used it. It seems like a great compromise for an auto-dependent, spread-out city like Indy. It’s visible, simple, and didn’t require massive re-engineering of tons of roads (some of the naysayers would probably disagree with me).

    That said, it’s a whole lot harder to make a case for transit lines that are intended to support commuters first and foremost, at the same time that the City just pushed a huge downtown magnet (the Justice Center) to a new site a mile away–a move I also supported, but let’s face it, the City-County building isn’t very busy these days. And at least one nearby office building is getting converted to apartments/condos because it was empty or near-empty with workers. And with remote work still fairly popular, the number of people going to offices downtown each day just isn’t what it was in 2019. Even offices facing Monument Circle are in risk of receivership.

    So we’re not exactly riding a wave of commuter demand.

    And yet, even when we know that is the primary argument for the Blue Line, weepy Blake Johnson has the gall to trot out the mother of a dead little girl to pose the ever-popular “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” argument.
    – No, the act of introducing a new dedicated bus line isn’t going to make other drivers go slower, which is what killed Hannah Crutchfield.
    – No, a Blue Line isn’t going to cause a bunch of children to take IndyGo to get to school. The number of kids walking to school will remain low–the number taking a bus that isn’t yellow will be even lower.
    – No, the reintroduction of the Blue Line isn’t going to cause a significant return of teleworkers to their office environments downtown. Though it might help incentivize a few people to commute, it won’t move the meter to visible, traceable numbers. A lot of white collar workers really, REALLY like working from home, so unless the mandates change, they’re going to resist all but the most lucrative incentives.
    – No, the Blue Line isn’t the first incentive to get Hoosiers out of their cars that has flopped in the last 10 years. Blue Indy was very cool and novel. And rendered obsolete by Uber/Lyft within about a year.

    I agree with the IBJ echo chamber on this one: that this is a matter where the State should butt the heck out. Urban transit is not something the State should get involved in.

    And yes, the IBJ echo chamber is right that this is based on some escalating animus toward Indy itself. But let’s face it: many visitors from backstate who previously enjoyed going to a clean, safe downtown will go there now and see fentanyl addicts passed out in the dried-up fountains of Monument Circle, and it’s hard for them not to think, “Geez! And they want to spend money getting a few hundred people downtown each day to a place that looks like THIS?!”

    1. Lauren coming in to support the uniparty on cue. Johnson did exactly what one should do – expose the legislators voting to their own ineptitude.

      If you think the line isn’t needed, the response would be for Freeman to insist that IndyGo do another referendum before moving forward. That’s not what he’s doing because he doesn’t care about the answer. He’s the smartest person in every room he walks into, just ask him.

      Brent or Chris had it right – Freeman wants to be the mayor of Indianapolis with none of the hard work of actually running for the office. He’s had three opportunities to run for the mayor of Indianapolis and passed every single time.

    2. Meanwhile the local hotels and Visit Indy are begging for the line.

      “Visitors and convention hopefuls looking at Indianapolis often ask Chris Gahl, executive vice president of Visit Indy, How easy is it to get from the airport to downtown without spending $40 on a rideshare app?

      Today, visitors could take the Route 8, a regular city bus that leaves from the airport every half hour and takes 40 minutes to get to the downtown transit center roughly 15 miles away.

      Meanwhile, visitors to a peer city like Denver can take a dedicated rail line downtown, a longer journey in less time.

      “There’s a certain sophistication to what is a dedicated line,” Gahl told IndyStar. “There’s infrastructure that’s built that is more predictable, more sophisticated in technology, arguably more reliable in terms of how people could move from point A to point B. It’s that piece of the puzzle, if you will.”

    3. I use the CCB every day. For the love of all things holy, stop posting silly stuff. Think before you hit “send.”

    4. The IBJ hivemind continues it’s snot-filled, semi-literate tear! Lead by the most predictable person of them all–Joe B–who is trying to turn my insults back on me. I guess that’s what one should expect when your ideas are completely secondhand.

      Uniparty? That’s the Baal that you worship, Joe. When I reference the uniparty, everybody knows that Nikki Haley would fundamentally function as Hillary Clinton’s presidency. Or Joe Biden’s second term. What does this have to do with Indiana, politics though? Keep in mind that I, being the centrist I am, have persistently said that the state should butt out. But because I have nothing good to say about the the utter clown car that is Indianapolis Democrats, the IBJ hivemind comes swarming. And, of course, rather than acknowledging their role in Indy’s current sorry state (a city where Dems outnumber GOP 2 to 1), they continue blaming state-level Republicans

      Rick, personal anecdotes don’t constitute data. The city-county building is significantly less busy than it was five years ago, and you know it. Claiming, as some of the cultists here do, that they “use the CCB every day” does not nullify the fact that one of its biggest functions was migrated to another part of town. Besides, what about all the other office buildings downtown? Why on earth would we prioritize a bus line when day-to-day downtown employment is still not far from its record lows of 2021?

    5. Lauren, I’ll just point out you didn’t reply to anything I said, accept that as tacit acknowledgement, and figure we are just moving on.

      I’d stop pointing out the entire uniparty nonsense if it wasn’t another of your ideological tentpoles that makes about as much sense as worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. For an atheist, your choice of replacement gods is … interesting.

      Yes, point out how Indianapolis Democrats aren’t dealing with homelessness… while Statehouse Republicans continue to make it harder for them to do so. As best I can tell, you are rather devoid of solutions and love to just say “that won’t work”. Just like the Aaron Freeman approach to Indianapolis … all Freeman has to offer is a list of things he doesn’t want Indianapolis to do, and a comparatively empty list of positive contributions he’s made to the city. Tell us all again about that $8 million a year in increased road funding Freeman found … for a municipality facing a yearly funding deficit of 100 times that. His answer to that issue he has helped create? Let’s take more local control away from Indianapolis.

      Meanwhile Freeman is too much of a coward to actually run for the mayor of Indianapolis on a platform of “optimize Indianapolis for people who don’t actually visit or live in Indianapolis.” I guess when I put it like that, it’s kind of self evident why he’s not up for a historic electoral beating. I am sure it would be a memorable concession speech, calling everyone who didn’t vote for him stupid…

    6. Donwtown office workers are not the primary ridership population. It’s the workers for all of the downtown event venues, hotels and restaurants, warehouse workers in the suburbs, the disabled and elderly who cannot drive, and those who cannot afford cars. The better the system gets, and the Blue Line is a big part of that, the more that average people will use the system.

    7. Lauren: please learn up.

      The CCB lost all the courts and admin staff to the new Justice Center. Which is revitalizing a huge swath of near-southeast-side neighborhoods.

      As a result:

      More employees are being relocated to the CCB, from previously-leased office space, than were housed by the courts. It’s been widely-reported but it likely doesn’t fit your desired narrative. It’s already 3/4 accomplished.

      Downtown office occupancy? Welcome to post-Covid American urban downtowns. Do you seriously advocate that we ignore transit investment and jeopardize any future growth or change in transit habits? Schools, roads, sewers and other vital infrastructure are built not just for today, but projected needs.

      We need to support mass transit because it’s vital to the success of a major urban area. In this city it transports a huge number of service workers, many of whom are lower-income non-car owners. These folks clean our hotels and Convention Center, hospitals, government office buildings, private office buildings….it’s a worthwhile investment to subsidize transit for those essential personnel.

      And what’s NOT worthwhile: nosy, pesky state legislators undoing local government decisions. You are free to invent reasons their intrusions are needed. You’ll be in the distinct minority. We want the Blue Line. We voted eight years ago in a referendum…on this exact question. It was an overwhelming result. And: we risk the loss of huge federal funding if we don’t proceed.

      The CCB is an essential part of the downtown matrix. It’s being remodeled and updated to handle more employees than before the courts moved out. Your other arguments are….meaningless.

  5. The vast majority of the Republicans in the Indiana legislature are nothing more that a group of self-righteous hateful busy bodies. Much like their Republican counterparts in Washington DC. They ceased being a Party long ago in lieu of being a Cult.

    1. A friendly reminder that, in Chicago, the politics at the state level are much MUCH more in alignment with the biggest city, largely due to the city’s demographic dominance overshadowing the rest of the state (which will almost certainly never happen in Indiana).

      Strangely, despite the fact that the State of Illinois doesn’t usually impede Chicago’s self-funded urban advancements (and often supports them), Chicago isn’t exactly Valhalla. It’s losing population in huge amounts, with even the Magnificent Mile looking increasingly like a ghost town.

      It’s almost like the people pushing for this stuff are so stuck within their hermetically sealed flatulence chambers that they fail to see the stuff that is causing people and businesses to high-tail it to the suburbs…or to neighboring states like Indiana.

    2. Remember when they used to preach about local control? LOL. Spot on with the cult comment. It’s disturbing how quickly social media allowed nearly 33% of the country to become radicalized cult followers. Hopefully we get out of this so sociologists and psychologists can study what exactly went wrong, so this doesn’t happen again in the future. There’s a lot of good theories mostly centered on Democrats abandoning working class whites, but I still don’t see how a billionaire like Trump becomes their idol. Hopefully enough of them realize he’s a con man who cares nothing about them or their future before the election.

    3. Lauren – the population of Chicago increased last year? where do you get this misinformation?

    1. “I’m moving to Seattle because Indy isn’t progressive enough for me–waaahhh! But the problem isn’t really Indy–the only place in the whole state with intelligence–it’s the rest of those backwater rubes that surround us. WAAAHHHH!!!”

      As I’ve said numerous times, you can always move to Chicago, where the Party of Intellectual Sophistication is dominant enough that they shape the state politics, which broadly serve to support Chicago. Chicago’s doing amazingly right now and Illinois is just surging in population. Yup.

  6. Hopefully the Senate shelves this bastardization of legislation. And if it doesn’t the hopefully it gets vetoed by the governor. And if he doesn’t…we will know that our state government is not “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    1. Given the ease in which a governor’s veto can be overridden in Indiana, they’re about as meaningless as the color of Gatorade that IU used when they actually won a game last night.

    2. And then that veto will be promptly overridden as, for some reason, it takes only a simple majority in both chambers to do so.

  7. Indiana leaders are always taking steps backwards. Almost all of Indys peer cities have better transit and people wonder why Indy gets so much flack as being a backwards and dull city. It’s time for new and fresh talent to run the city and state for that matter.

  8. Beyond the bus line controversy, the simple fact that the Capitol city, the largest city in the state, a NATIONAL top convention and major events city has been deemed ‘personna non gratis’ regarding light rail by its own lawmakers says everything. Especially when a far less densely populated NW sector of the state is in the midst of a $700 million upgrade south-shore line for multiple communities….to better serve Chicago. Now that is pathetic! I would strongly suggest the current crop of ‘shakers and movers’ start leveraging their influence, regardless of political affiliation. There is nothing across the board more ‘democratic’ than good roads and good public transportation. The comments regarding other cities is spot on. Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

  9. Lets just keep driving, adding traffic lanes (proven to add more traffic), and have zero transportation options. I love urban sprawl and gridlocked traffic. These things bring me joy. Said NO ONE ever.

    1. That’s what Freeman is after – optimize Indianapolis for people like him who live in the hinterlands of Marion County or the donut counties.

      Everyone who lives between the Mile Square are not “real Americans” who shouldn’t have a voice anyway, zombies who should be ignored because they blindly vote Democratic, and/or idiots who clearly aren’t as smart as someone like Aaron Freeman … the smartest man in every room he walks in.

      Everyone who is smart signs up for a 45 minute commute both ways each day, and Indianapolis should do everything they can to help those folks have a 42 minute commute in their cars. How dare the city of Indianapolis actually do anything for the residents of Indianapolis? They’re not worthy. They’re all freeloaders.

  10. In the early days of the those new fangled automobiles, many localities passed laws that required drivers to have a person walking in front of the vehicle ringing a bell to warn people a car was approaching.

    It sounds like the legislature thinks those poor hicks in Indianapolis are too stupid to notice something as big as a bus coming down the street even when the pavement is painted red and there are warning signs clearly visible to both drivers and pedestrians.

  11. As I live near Noblesville and drive to various places in and around my long time home in Castleton, I drive through and past so much road construction trying to make it easier to drive from suburb to suburb, neighborhood to neighborhood. Can you ever make I-69, 465, I-70 or Allisonville wide enough to handle the traffic? What if I could catch a ride on a bus to Castleton, or maybe a bus from near my home to a train that stops near Castleton (lot of empty parking lot near the Mall these days) and then on to downtown for a sporting event or a night out. Maybe we could turn the old rail routes into dedicated bus line paths. Use hybrid or electric buses. There has to be a solution that doesn’t involve trying to make roadways wider and wider…

    1. It won’t matter. Freeman will easily win re-election. He can make Marion County residents angry all day long, his district is drawn with a large number of Johnson County residents for whom these are non-issues. You don’t see Freeman telling Mark Myers how to do his job for a reason.

    2. Freeman says he’s speaking for his constituents, but as you rightly point out many of his constituents are in Johnson County, who didn’t vote for the referendum and don’t pay taxes in Marion County.

    3. Yes, a bunch of constituents who have major highways like I-65, I-74, and US31 to quickly get where they need to go.

      Freeman claims the primary route from Hendricks to Hancock County is Washington Street. Then why isn’t a senator from either of those counties leading the charge?

      Simple, it’s never been about logic. Freeman hates IndyGo and wants it to not exist. The best way to do that is to fight against it ever being more useful. Visitors being able to quickly get downtown on the Blue Line would be a disaster for Aaron Freeman.

  12. How about individuals with disabilities that are not able to drive? Without an East/West Route, you really limit another subset of the community. Individuals that want to work, that want to shop, can’t. Can they Uber, sure can, for $15 to go 4 miles?

    When do we drain the old white men with fancy cars and elect real people with real understanding of the real world? Term limits anyone? That could help too. I was at a Chamber event last week and the old white Senator told me, and the group, that it will take another 20 years until we fix transportation. Well, that’s his fault for taking the last 33 years in various offices for doing little for improvement.

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