Letter: Rapid transit in Indy is waste of money

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With all the talk about rapid transit, I think we should take a look at the history of rapid transit in Indianapolis.

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, we had the inter-urban. In fact, on the south side of Indy, the Stop 10, Stop 11, Stop 12 roads were all named for the inter-urban stops. The inter-urbans ceased in the 1920s.

From the 1930s to 1950s, we had streetcars that ran all over town. They are now gone.

In about 2003, IU Health constructed its People Mover at a cost of about $44 million. It is now defunct.

We currently have the Red Line. Where will it be in 10 years? For the prices we pay for rapid transit in Indianapolis, it never seems to last very long. Why are we considering a Blue Line and a Purple Line? They will be money wasted..


Fred Kortepeter

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One thought on “Letter: Rapid transit in Indy is waste of money

  1. The history noted in this opinion misrepresents some key facts,

    In the late 1800s to early 1900s, interurbans connected cities and towns throughout Indiana, the Midwest, southern California and many other locations nationwide as the major means of transportation before a massive investment in roadways was made and before mass production of cheap(er) cars. Private companies ceased interurban operations as more trips were made with private vehicles in ensuing years. Yet, one now vastly upgraded interurban (now called commuter rail) remains in Indiana, the South Shore operated by NICTD with service between Chicago and South Bend and now with an $800 million 8-mile extension to be constructed southward from Hammond to Munster.

    Interurbans were a statewide enterprise of private operators. It was not Indianapolis transit. It was rapid, but it is not what is considered urban rapid transit.

    Actually, streetcars served many corridors in Indianapolis as they did in all major and mid-size cities as well as several smaller cities. Streetcar networks were abolished throughout the United States for a number of reasons including but not limited to objectives to provide more right of way to automobiles, declining ridership and higher operating cost, disadvantageous legislation regarding utility/streetcar company ownership, and lack of investment in upgrading track and electrical infrastructure. There was also a strong lobby to push or so-called efficient and flexible bus lines to replace streetcars. Sadly, Indianapolis had a relatively modern streetcar fleet that was scrapped – the last line was College Ave, downtown to Broad Ripple. Part of this is now the Red Line.

    Chicago had the largest streetcar network in the world. Today it has none. But it does have rapid transit.

    The demise of streetcars was not an Indianapolis-specific situation. Yet, several streetcar networks survived and continue to operate; dedicated rights-of-way have been implemented along with modern signal control and some systems have been incrementally upgraded to light rail (San Francisco MUNI; Philadelphia subway-surface, Media, Sharon Hill lines; Pittsburgh, Boston Green Line; Newark; Cleveland).

    The IU Health People Mover was a private endeavor to transport people between their distant activity centers. The cost (noted estimate of $44 million) was not a city-county or IndyGo expense, nor was this system purported to be rapid transit or public transit for that matter. It was a special purpose connector, not transit.

    The construction cost of the Red Line is comparatively low ($96 million total for which the local cost share was $21 million — the federal grant was $75 million). In years ahead the Red Line will still have the same stations and buses serving the stations. The capital cost will be amortized. The roadway will still be there. The primary costs for transit and roadways for that matter, are annual operating costs. If the stations were not there, the buses would still operate and that would account for more that 95% of the operating cost along the same route, but service reliability would be worse as would be user benefit.

    The Purple and Blue lines will provide faster service and better service and more efficient service, replacing the local routes in those corridors, consolidating bus stops, and increasing service frequency.

    Altogether, the Red, Purple and Blue line would provide about 51 miles of BRT at a cost of about $451 million with federal grants of $252.5 million — meaning that the local share of cost for all three lines is $198 million or $3.8 million per mile, a fraction of what light rail costs in other cities (next paragraph).

    Let’s compare: Phoenix’s 5.5-mile South Central light rail extension will cost $1.34 billion; estimated daily riders are 7,900 (the same as estimates for all Indianapolis BRT lines) — this light rail project cost is therefore $243.6 million per mile.
    So, Indianapolis is not paying an exorbitant amount for bus rapid transit – a lower cost option compared to light rail. But Phoenix is growing much faster and is a major city, Indianapolis is neither, but it still deserves quality transit.

    Note also:
    – A typical freeway interchange – such as the I-65/I-70 North Split costs about $300 million
    – Lucas Oil Stadium cost was $720 million
    – Indianapolis (new) Airport cost was about $1 billion

    To reiterate, the three BRT lines would be a local cost to Indianapolis of $198 million.

    Money well spent to provide 51 miles of bus rapid transit with 86 stations along the busiest corridors with the greatest potential for growth and economic viability. Doing nothing, maintaining the status quo or leading the race to mediocrity is not a sound nor reasonable plan to improve transit mobility effectively and efficiently.