State lawmakers advance bill IndyGo says would kill Blue Line project

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After hearing more than two hours of testimony, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 7-5, mostly along party lines, to advance a bill that would prohibit IndyGo from using dedicated lanes for the Blue Line project, a measure the public transit agency says will effectively kill the project.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Marion County and the author of Senate Bill 52, filed similar bills in previous sessions that made it out of the Senate chamber but failed to gain House approval.

Prior to voting to advance the bill to the Senate floor, the Republican-controlled committee voted 7-5 to approve an amendment that went a step further and specified that the Blue Line must use only lanes shared with other traffic and clarified that the restrictions would not apply to the Red or Purple Lines. Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, was the only Republican to vote against the bill.

About 10 people signed up to speak in support of the legislation, while more than 30 people signed up against it.

Supporters of the bill, many of which were business owners along Washington Street in Irvington, say their establishments would lose foot traffic during the long construction period, while others expressed concern that the lane restriction would make it difficult for semitrucks to make deliveries and customers to access their business.

They said they’ve implored IndyGo to explore other measures to slow traffic that wouldn’t negatively impact their business.

“We feel like IndyGo has really come in and not done their due diligence,” said Lisa Bennett, owner of Black Sheep Gifts on East Washington Street in Irvington. “They’ve not answered a lot of the business owners’ questions. We just feel that this lane coming through in what is the most narrow corridor of our city…is not going to be anything in the long run that is going to be positive for our community.”

Opponents of Freeman’s legislation included other business owners and residents along or near the affected route, public transit advocates, city officials and Cassandra Crutchfield, the mother of a young girl who was killed in 2022 by a speeding car along Washington Street.

Jennifer Pyrz, interim CEO of IndyGo, said shared lanes force buses to compete with cars, hindering the ability of the bus service to provide rapid transit and making it unsafe for riders and motorists.

By pursuing dedicated lanes, she said, IndyGo can get increased funding for drainage, sidewalk, safety and other infrastructure improvements along Washington Street.

Further delays would put the project at risk of losing federal funding, she added.

“We are too far along to go backwards,” Pyrz told the committee. “In good conscience, we cannot waste the $14 million we put into this design. We would then be turning down $150 million in federal funding for the Blue Line, which is leveraged to make significant improvements on Washington Street.”

Construction on the Blue Line, which carries an estimated price tag of $370 million, would replace Route 8— the second-most traveled route behind the Red Line—and run about 25 miles east to west along Washington Street between Cumberland and the Indianapolis International Airport, using I-70 west of Holt Road.

Should the bill pass the Senate chamber, it will move to the House, where House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, has indicated it has support.

If the Blue Line continues to move forward, there may be some hope for businesses looking for relief.

Taylor Hughes, vice president of policy and strategy for the Indy Chamber, said the nonprofit will be creating a program to provide business disruption loans to establishments along the Blue Line if their operations are negatively impacted by construction.

“We have some capital now to get started and will be actively seeking more,” Hughes posted on X on Thursday.

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25 thoughts on “State lawmakers advance bill IndyGo says would kill Blue Line project

  1. A city that once had great public transportation on rails cannot seem to get back to public transportation. I wonder how many more people die, how much more property damage to vehicles in accidents, is required before people are willing to re-think how we move around the city. Absolutely there would be business dislocation, and the Chamber is working on that issue. But the focus should be on resolving those dislocation issues, on Washington Street and in Broad Ripple, not shutting down the projects. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. There are win-win solutions. But those solutions will never see the light of day as long as Republican members of the General Assembly who are not from Marion County insist on hindering development and improvement in Indianapolis in favor of improvement and development in Carmel and the other doughnut communities.

    1. Given that IndyGo has historically had some of the lowest usage rates of any comparable bus system in the country, I’d say the answer to your question–how many more people have to die–is probably close to zero. Because few or no lives were saved from the couple hundred people opting for our bus system each day to begin with. Transit takes a small percentage of vehicles off the road and gives a small subset of the population (mostly the inner-city poor) a cheap way to get around along a few fixed routes. This is a public benefit but it’s not comparable to an EMS system.

      I don’t object to a better transit system. In fact, I support it and think the State needs to butt out. But trying to pin it on dead motorists/pedestrians is disingenuous.

      And, at a point when downtown vacancies are the highest they’ve been in 40+ years–due in no small part to draconian COVID lockdowns (mostly ushered by Democrat leadership) and “summer of hate” riots (natch)–the notion that business dislocation is a minor consideration is foolish. Can’t we imagine that the folks advocating for I-65 and I-70 to plow right through downtown were arguing that residential/business location was “minor” compared to the benefit…and yet, for 20 years after those interestates, downtown Indy continued to lose jobs to the point that it became India-no-place?

      These things are delicate and nuanced, and if the State comes after Indy with a hammer, it’s better to respond with calm, rational arguments that make them look like imbeciles playing Whack-a-Mole–rather than to swat right back.

    2. Lauren B, speaking of being disingenuous, office vacancy rates are down across the country (but not as much in Indy) not because of COVID lockdowns, but because employers gave employees an option to not die by forcing them to come into the office. They gave them the option to work from home. Employees loved it and were for the most part just as productive. The continued work from home is what has raised office vacancy rates .

    3. Lauren, you do understand that a huge part of the blue line investment is infrastructure improvements that involve sidewalks, traffic calming, safer crossings, etc? So, the number of people on the buses themselves has no bearing on the objective fact that Washington St would be much safer with the blue line. It is also an objective fact that people are dying along Washington St, including children.

  2. Sloppy reporting—for one thing, Black Sheep is on EAST Washington, not West. Easy to check. And we could’ve used more info on the federal dollars involved, which require certain standards.

  3. Buses are a 20th century solution. It was a failed plan from the start. That said, this should be an issue for the voters in Marion County not the state legislature. And so far, the people of Marion County have not voted in their best interest by electing officials that want to look for other alternatives to public transportation.

    1. Trains are a 19th century solution. What’s your point?

      Bus Rapid Transit is a clever fusion that attempts to override the limitations of motorized vehicle transportation by improving efficiency, streamlining the process, and creating a permanent element of visibility.

      I hate what the State is doing here, though I’m also (obviously) not a transit diehard. The defenders of IndyGo have weak arguments, but claiming buses are “old fashioned” is even weaker.

      What do you want that’s modern enough? Jet pack rentals and docking stations?

    2. The last Republican mayoral candidate, in the waning days of his campaign, threw out the concept of scrapping the entire transit system with some “ door-to-door public transportation model”, which is called Uber or Lyft. Explain to me how dumping all the folks out of IndyGo is going to be “better”.

      If you think driverless cars are the solution, you should be drug tested. They won’t be ready in our lifetimes.

  4. There are two valid sides to this issue. I’m all for Mass Transit but our city is too large to assume that a few dedicated lines can serve the entire city. The number of people commuting to downtown has decreased as the work from home option has dramatically increased. What people that don’t drive want is more frequent service closer to their homes. This means spend money on more busses for all routes so that service can be more frequent. Shifting hundreds of millions of dollars to a few fixed dedicated routes that cannot be changed is not the best use of mass transit dollars. As demographics change (such as more people working at Warehouses in the suburbs) our bus routes need to be flexible.
    Washinton Street is a major thoroughfare and a major business street for the Eastside. You don’t reduce a major thoroughfare to 2 lanes. This will discourage cars from using the street , hurt businesses and it will only shift more traffic to residential streets. We already have a bus line running down Washington Street. Busses need to share the lanes with cars, otherwise we have dedicated lanes that are only used by a bus every 15 or 20 minutes. Fixed, dedicated bus routes are not the answer for a city that does not have major population density in any one area.

  5. Millions for dedicated infrastructure for BUSES is ridiculous in the first place. Better wait stations and shelters yes. As other posters have pointed out, this city dropped the ball decades ago. Now that populations have drastically shifted there needs to be an emphasis on intra-city bus routes. Indy still needs regular bus service within Marion county but commuter rail needs to be seriously looked at for regional transportation. Cities of comparable size all over the country are light years ahead of Indy. There should be daily rail routes from, and to, Hamilton, Hendricks and Johnson counties. In addition (and this is very workable) downtown Indy should provide a multi shuttle bus system for workers and visitors at a $1 daily fee to get around from 16th street- College-South and West streets and everything in between,. Expanded if necessary.

    1. These would be great things to have but 1) the state legislature prohibited the use of transit tax revenues from going to rail transit and 2) the outer counties would need to pay into the system, which they have so far opted not to do. This all requires dedicated infrastructure. So, for now, the best thing we can do is to improve transit in Marion County.

  6. It is a mistake to have the Blue Line killed. Issues can be addressed going forward and yes, there will be effects on existing businesses but most studies find that homes and businesses near improved public transit routes actually increase traffic and value afterwards. Having only the red line also depresses ridership because there is not any other similar transit to transfer too; standard bus service does not offer the same convenience.

    The Indianapolis International Airport also needs an inexpensive way to get to downtown Indy that is scheduled and reliable. This will greatly help convention/exhibition attendees from out of town and increase the attractiveness and thus increase convention business. Most other cities have figured this out, even in more car centric locations like LA. We need to stop living in the past and think about the future in Indiana. The more that we can get individuals out of cars the better for our health and environment.

  7. I have never believed that bus service would be successful going to the donut counties around Indy. A light rail option makes the most sense but given that its Indiana it is very unlikely we have politicians with enough vision to see the long term value of this option. As is said above we are very far behind many other more enlightened cities like Charlotte, Nashville, Minneapolis and a number of others. We have done a great job with our downtown over the years but public transportation seems to have always been a problem.

    1. Have you been to Nashville recently? Traffic is horrendous. Their Republican dominated government killed light rail proposals and any expanded transit just like Indiana. Reminder Nashville is still smaller than Indy.

  8. In listening to the testimonies today, many of the concerns didn’t have anything to do with/against a ‘blue line’…or even transportation. Businesses don’t want to be shut down for months on end, and pedestrians and cyclists are upset at the excessive speed through Irvington. Washington street’s pavement is terrible and street crossings are still dangerous. These issues can, and should be addressed first.

    1. Or we can address them all at once AND get the better transit that we voted to tax ourselves for! This isn’t zero-sum.

    2. Not without drastically impairing business on Washington Street, in particular Irvington. With an interest in redeveloping Irvington Plaza on the far east end of Irvington, doesn’t it make sense to run smaller, shuttle type vehicles, more often, fix the pavement for everyone instead of having to reinforce a heavy duty commercial single lane from Cumberland to downtown while spending $ on better sidewalks, bike lanes, street crossings and up to date boarding stops? Just keep the busses in the right lane and leave it at that. If anyone thinks even a completed electric directional bus system is proving ‘real’ public transit, well, they’re kidding themselves. I ‘love’ how we have REGIONAL commissions on water, commerce, sports and a refusal to deal realistically with mass regional transit.

    3. Have you ridden Route 8? It’s packed constantly! No, shuttle vehicles would not cut it, this isn’t an amusement park. Yes, there would be construction impacts, which is why the Indy Chamber announced their construction loan program to support businesses. Bottom line, though – The wants of businesses do not supersede the needs of the community, which voted, overwhelmingly, for the transit tax and the Blue Line. If they want better sidewalks, pavement, drainage, etc. then they need the Blue Line. That’s the only way these improvements happen.

  9. This is why a lot of us leave Indianapolis after graduating college with no plans of ever returning. As great as I think Indy is, I have no desire to live in a place where my votes, or those of my city councilors, can just be cancelled by power hungry legislators on the other end of Market Street. I’m sure Indianapolis is losing out on a lot of potential remote workers and employer’s because of actions at the Statehouse. Indiana needs to get rid of the GOP supermajority or the city’s interests will not only be ignored, but purposefully made worse. It’s so bizarre to watch Republicans do their best to hurt the economic engine of their state. Indiana Republicans do this in ways that you don’t even see in places like Texas and Florida.

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