The IndyGo transit system will not have to pay millions of dollars for companies to relocate utility services to make way for new rapid bus lines. That’s because the state senator who proposed the measure dropped it.
“The support was not there in the House,” said Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis.
He said it’s hard to get lawmakers from other parts of the state to understand issues in Marion County, but he isn’t giving up on this issue or other changes he feels are necessary at IndyGo.
The IndyGo provision, after failing to pass in another bill, was amended into House Bill 1191 dealing with other energy-related matters. Under Freeman’s amendment, IndyGo would have had to pay public utility companies for moving utility services to make way for new transit lines and for relocation costs associated with the existing Red Line.
Ultimately, Freeman said he realized the IndyGo provision was not going to win the House’s final approval. He decided to go along with the provision’s withdrawal to keep his promise to the bill’s author not to endanger its other contents, including preventing local governments from banning certain energy sources.
Without the IndyGo language, the House passed the bill Wednesday night by a 61-29 vote and the Senate voted 41-7 Thursday to approve it. The bill now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb for consideration.
During earlier debate in the Senate, Democratic senators spoke against the IndyGo measure because they said it would hurt the transit system financially and its efforts to expand rapid transit services.
But Freeman and other supporters argued it’s unfair for public utilities to pay the costs of relocating utility lines that could result in higher costs to ratepayers.
Senate Democrats also contended it was another example of the Republican-controlled Senate trying to impose its will on the Democrat-led city of Indianapolis. Also, IndyGo supporters have said other governmental bodies are not required to pay utility companies if they have to relocate lines in public right-of-ways.
The provision would have required IndyGo to reimburse all utility companies for relocating utility lines beginning retroactively with the work done by Citizens Energy, AES Indiana and any others for the Red Line, which has been in operation for 18 months, and in the future for the planned Purple and Blue Lines. The estimated utility costs for the Red Line alone was $7.94 million for Citizens Energy and $500,000 for AES.
Freeman said Thursday that the provision was also in response to his concerns over IndyGo’s plan to reduce the regular traffic to one lane each way on W. Washington Street to make way for the proposed Blue Line rapid bus lanes. He said that was unacceptable on a busy street like Washington.
He also reiterated his concerns that IndyGo is not living up to stipulations in a 2014 law calling for certain percentages of IndyGo’s funds to come from private sources and from fares. He said he’s tried to negotiate with IndyGo officials about those percentages, but he contended IndyGo officials are not negotiating in good faith with him.
IndyGo has disagreed with his contentions and said it is complying with the provisions.
Freeman recognized the 2014 law has a loophole because no repercussions or penalties exist if IndyGo does not meet those standards.
“We have to address this issue sometime,” Freeman contended. “I’m not going away.”
The final version of the bill, minus the IndyGo provision, also didn’t please everyone.
In the House, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said provisions prohibit local governments from taking some steps to help control climate change.
“I don’t think we should tie the hands of local government,” he said.
The Hoosier Environmental Council opposed the entire bill because its “underlying purpose is to seriously weaken local government control over energy-related matters,” a news release said.
HEC objects to several parts of the bill and also opposed the IndyGo provision. The release said the bill strips the rights of cities and counties to ban energy resources that emit high levels of carbon/greenhouse gas or pose health risks.
HEC also disapproves of language that strips the rights of local government to require sustainable energy design features in privately owned buildings in their jurisdictions.
The bill, according to HEC, sends a “discouraging signal to several cities that want to translate their climate-related goals and plans into local-level legislation—legislation that could be pre-empted by the Indiana General Assembly in a future legislative session.”
Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, criticized the bill earlier this week before being removed as one of the bill’s conferees and replaced by a Republican.
“This bill is another attempt by Republicans in the state Legislature to dictate to local elected officials about how best to run their city, town or county government,” she said in an emailed statement. “The bill is undemocratic and undermines the will of the people by superseding the folks they voted into office.”
She said more than 15 cities in Indiana, represented by both Republican and Democratic mayors, are actively planning to address climate change, but this bill eliminates their ability to take action.