Despite a snag in securing an anticipated $75 million federal grant for construction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Red Line, work toward mass transit upgrades in Indianapolis continues.
Congress failed to approve the 2017 transportation budget before the 2016 year-end deadline, stalling the grant funds for the first phase of the Red Line project and 30 other transit-related projects nationwide, but IndyGo Director of Public Affairs Bryan Luellen said the pre-construction preparations for the Red Line are still underway.
“Construction is scheduled to begin in June, but if Congress does not act by March, the project could begin to realize some delays,” Luellen said in a media statement.
Luellen said IndyGo would not enter into any contracts without the necessary funding in place, reiterating what he told the Recorder in an October 2016 interview: “We’re not going out and buying 13 60-foot electric vehicles on a hope and a dream, and we’re not hiring construction firms just hoping that this grant is going to come through.”
In Washington, Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN), who sits on the House Transportation Committee, is fighting to secure the Red Line funding for his hometown.
“He’s a big advocate for public transportation in Indianapolis, and he is going to continue to fight to get that funding,” said Jessica Gail, Carson’s communications director. “He’s going to fight any way he can.”
Gail said there are several avenues Carson could pursue, including pushing for other grants or getting the Red Line funding into the presidential budget.
Red Line construction is just one part of the overall Marion County Transit Plan, which also includes strategies for more frequent service, more efficient transfers, longer hours, advanced payment technology and real-time arrival information.
So while the grant funds are tied up in Washington, mass transit advocates in Marion County continue to organize in support of the proposed income tax measure to fund IndyGo’s operations and the other planned improvements.
“The local funding at issue here is more important than any federal grants. Without increased funding, IndyGo will not be able to add service in the future,” Luellen said. “Local funding provides the revenue IndyGo needs to operate more frequent service, earlier in the morning, later at night, seven days a week, not to mention the local match for any future federal grants.”
Indianapolis currently has no dedicated transit funding, meaning the money for IndyGo operations fluctuates based on the city budget. Though Indianapolis is the 33rd largest region in the nation, the city ranks 86th in transit investment per capita.
The .25-percent income tax increase appeared as a ballot referendum in November, and 59 percent of Marion County voters voiced their support. However, the measure was considered a non-binding referendum, so it requires final approval from the City-County Council.
Indy Connect, a coalition made up of IndyGo, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, is urging transit supporters to contact their City-County councilors and attend upcoming meetings to voice their opinions. Upcoming meetings are scheduled for Jan. 9, 11, 19, 24 and 30 at the City-County Building.
For more information on the Marion County Transit Plan, visit IndyConnect.org. For more information on the City-County Council, visit Indy.gov.