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Statehouse actions could delay or halt new IndyGo lines

IndyGo Red Line.JPG
Posted at 4:57 PM, Feb 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 23:38:51-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the Indiana Senate approved an amendment to a bill that could halt production on IndyGo’s Purple Line and Blue Line in Marion County.

The amendment to House Bill 1279 creates a penalty if IndyGo doesn’t raise at least 10% for public transportation projects using sources other than taxes and fares. This means 10% of a project, such as the Blue Line or Purple Line, can’t come from taxes or fares.

That language is already in Indiana code, said the amendment’s author, Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. Freeman said the law, passed in 2015, is not being followed.

The law he referenced states that a public transportation project must use the 10% rule. If that doesn’t happen, the county is on the hook for paying the difference. Freeman repeatedly stressed that he is not against transit and not against IndyGo.

"This isn't about ridership of the Red Line, that's not at 4,300 people a day, down from what they wanted to be — 11,000," Freeman said. "Simply saying, the law that many of you all passed in 2015 is not being followed. And I would ask you with your yes vote on this amendment, to tell the locals that we really mean it and you should follow the law."

He said it wouldn’t necessarily kill the Blue Line and Purple Lines. Advocacy groups, such as the IndyChamber and the Hoosier Environmental Council, as well as Senate Democrats say it would create roadblocks for IndyGo.

"This is why we can't have nice things," Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said. "If we were truly wanting to get economic development in our state, we need transit. You fly to other cities you can get off the airplane, pick up your baggage and get dropped off at your hotel. Here, it's a little bit more difficult. ... Senator Freeman's amendment would have severe negative consequences on transit in Marion County."

Freeman’s amendment creates fiscal penalties for IndyGo, such as the state withholding a percentage of the funds approved under the 2016 Marion County transit referendum.

The amendment passed the Senate 35-12 and is now part of the bill. The only Republicans to vote against the amendment were Sens. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, and Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. The chamber will vote on the bill likely next week.

State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, criticized the amendment's passage.

"We are going through a very trying time in the City of Indianapolis. Violent crime is up. People are getting killed and we're over here trying to provide transit for people to go to work and we've got people who want to stop it," Taylor said.

At IndyGo's monthly meeting Thursday night, board member Mark Fisher said the amendment could put several projects at risk.

"The infrastructure improvements, the sidewalks, the drainage, the repaving of the street, the redevelopment potential, all of that is at risk if this amendment stays in the bill through the remainder of session," Fisher said. "It's an attempt to overturn the will of Marion County voters who voted overwhelmingly, supported expanding transit service to increase access to jobs, education, and healthcare across our city."

A spokesperson for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett released the following statement:

In 2016, a significant majority of Marion County voters cast their ballots in order to ensure a more robust mass transit system for Indianapolis. In the years since, a bipartisan coalition of stakeholders have worked with IndyGo and demonstrated the need to continue investing in connectivity for our residents.

Today’s amendment puts that connectivity at risk, jeopardizing the further development of our city’s mass transit system. It’s clear that in order for Indianapolis to remain Central Indiana’s economic engine, we must have reliable, accessible transit options that connect workers with opportunities for education and employment.

Indianapolis City-County Council president Vop Osili also released a statement:

In 2016, residents of Indianapolis spoke clearly when a significant majority voted to strengthen their city’s mass transit system. Today’s amendment threatens to silence their voice and deny Indianapolis residents the right to make their own decisions about transit in their city.

Even more concerning, it threatens to disrupt connectivity to food, health care, education and employment for our city’s most vulnerable residents. Public transit is not only critical to economic development in Indianapolis, it is key to addressing the racial and social disparities in our community that our Council just this week unanimously pledged to end.