After initially voicing their opposition to IndyGo’s plans to construct a dedicated bus line along Washington Street for the proposed Blue Line, three Irvington business owners are changing their tune.
The owners of Black Sheep Gifts, the Irvington Wellness Center and Jockamo Pizza, all of which are along East Washington Street in the heart of Irvington, represent a portion of local business owners who appeared at the Statehouse last week to testify in support of Senate Bill 52, which would institute a one-year moratorium on using dedicated lanes for the transit agency’s planned Blue Line. The route would span 25 miles east to west along Washington Street between Cumberland and the Indianapolis International Airport, using Interstate 70 west of Holt Road.
IndyGo Interim CEO Jennifer Pyrz testified last week that the bill, which was authored by Sen Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), would effectively kill the Blue Line and leave $150 million in federal funding on the table for a dedicated lane bus and other infrastructure improvements along Washington Street.
In a statement to media outlets Monday, the owners of Jockamo Pizza, 5646 E. Washington St., said they are reversing their position after listening to “many voices” who believe the east-side neighborhood would be a better community with a rapid-transit line.
“While we are among those who have reservations about some details of the project, we support a strong public transportation network for our neighborhood and our city. As a result, we have decided to withdraw our support for Indiana SB 52,” the statement read.
Lisa Bennett, owner of Black Sheep Gifts, 5626 E. Washington St., also testified in support of SB 52. In a Facebook post on Monday, the gift shop announced it was withdrawing its support of the legislation.
“I have had many meetings with the bus line as well as community leaders, and still have questions and concerns,” the post read. “I, acting only for my individual business, supported Bill 52 as a last-ditch effort to get IndyGo to consider shared lanes through the corridor. That said, it seems the attitude of the community and businesses has shifted. Given that, I understand I am now in the minority regarding shared lanes versus designated lanes, and, as always, I stand with my community. I will no longer be supporting Bill 52.”
Laura Lea Sweney, owner of the Irvington Wellness Center, 17 N. Layman Ave., testified last week that she felt the Irvington corridor where her business is located is too narrow for a designated bus line.
After hearing from her friends and neighbors, she said she has changed her mind.
“I am deeply sorry for my actions that have caused others pain,” the center wrote in a Facebook post. “I did not clearly understand the ramifications of my actions. I will take time to correct this, contacting the necessary Senate and House representatives. Bill 52 needs to be defeated.”
But some public transit advocates on social media have expressed concerns that the business owners already gave Freeman the ammunition he needed to get his legislation passed. A similar version of this year’s bill passed the Senate in 2021, and House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, told IBJ earlier this month that “moving too fast on the Blue Line would be a mistake.”
Andy Nielsen, a City-County Council member representing Irvington, said he remains optimistic that the bill can be defeated.
“I sympathize and empathize with that feeling, but we aren’t done yet,” Nielsen told IBJ. “We have plenty of opportunities to fight against this bill, so my message to neighbors, community leaders and business owners is to stay focused.”
Freeman said in a statement Monday he remains “steadfast” in his opposition to IndyGo’s plans despite the about-face from business owners.
“The goal is not to eliminate IndyGo, the Blue Line or take away busses from those who utilize public transit,” Freeman said. “In my opinion, eliminating 60% of the lanes of travel on Washington Street—from Hancock County to Hendricks County—in favor of buses only is not in the best interest of anyone. I stand steadfast in my decision to oppose the implementation and construction of dedicated lanes and I will continue to push for common-sense solutions to this issue.”
Huston did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning on whether his thoughts had changed.