Indiana lawmakers stopped mass transit legislation dead in its tracks in April, stymieing efforts to overhaul transit in Indianapolis and add light rail service to Noblesville.
House legislators approved the State Senate’s decision to punt House Bill 1011 until the next session. In the interim they watered down its provisions beyond the point of recognition. In its current form the bill only allows for a committee to study the proposals over the summer.
Transit advocates in central Indiana were outraged, as were municipalities in the so-called “doughnut counties” surrounding Indianapolis. “I’m very concerned. I mean, it’s been studied to death,” Andy Cook, mayor of north suburban Westfield, told Indianapolis’ local ABC affiliate. “It’s something that we need for economic development throughout all of central Indiana to keep this great momentum that we have going.”
In Indianapolis, mixed-use development and infill have come with a renewed sense of interest in the urban core, but mass transit improvements remain a missing link between nodes of development throughout the metropolitan area.
Members of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force garnered considerable support for a modest tax increase that would have helped vastly expand the region’s mass transit, doubling Indianapolis’ IndyGo bus fleet and building either a new commuter rail or bus rapid transit line to Noblesville, roughly 25 miles south of the state capital. The three-tenths of one percent income tax increase (roughly $10 to $15 per month for the average worker, according to the Indianapolis Star) would be approved by a direct vote through a local two-county referendum, but the community needed the approval of a conservative, Republican-controlled state government to proceed with the ballot measure.
The referendum would have paid for most of the local portion (just over half) of a 10-year, $1.3 billion transit expansion. Other central Indiana counties, including Marion and Hamilton, are moving to offer their own referenda beginning next year. The remaining $600 million would be federally funded.
Local municipalities are responsible for delineating specific transit projects. State action would allow them to start down the road to funding them. In addition to the Noblesville-Indianapolis connection along a 22-mile rail line owned by the government, the Indianapolis Star reports transit advocates also want bus rapid transit routes along Washington Street to the airport; along or near Meridian Street to Greenwood and Carmel; and along Keystone Avenue and 38th Street.
Legislators who support those plans reluctantly agreed to the summer study break, and vowed to raise the issue in the Senate again next year.