Indianapolis Regional Transit Plan heads to the Statehouse

Final Central Indiana Regional Transit Proposal (image credit: CITTF)
Final Central Indiana Regional Transit Proposal (image credit: CITTF)

Today, the final Indyconnect plan was released for public review. The plan released today, is the plan that officials will be taking with them when they go to the statehouse in the 2012 short session. Included in this plan are pieces of the former two releases but with some notable changes.

Chief among those changes, are the finalized proposal to include only Marion and Hamilton Counties in the initial phase. The NE Corridor, already under study, is still included as are multiple BRT corridors traversing the urban core from regional destinations such as Carmel, Greenwood, Lawrence & the Indianapolis International Airport . Urban Indy reported in October that Indianapolis had received $2 million to begin the Alternatives Analysis on two of these corridors. The questions we asked then seem to have been answered. A peak at the map indicates BRT all the way up College Ave to Carmel via the US31 employment centers.

The proposal outlines milestones along the way to what would be a 10 year build out of the initial phase. The proposal calls for doubling the amount of bus service in Marion County and adding local bus service in Hamilton with full implementation by 2020. Express bus between both counties by 2014 would conceivably replace the existing Indy Commuter Express. BRT along 4 corridors would be operating fully by 2020 with some service starting in 2017. The NE Corridor rail line would see full build out by 2021 with significant rehabilitation of Union Station included in the rail line’s budget. The South Corridor commuter line has been changed to a “future project” and is assumed to be a planned upon corridor with Johnson County’s eventual opting into the system.

The proposal wraps up by stating that as the build out occurs, the newly created regional transit authority would be examining transit service into other counties as well as studying the feasibility of converting one or more of the BRT corridors to light rail; a look at the map indicates two potential light rail lines.

Funding capital and operating costs would be a recommended 0.3% income tax levy that would require a voter referendum to implement for each county. The plan states that each county would fund an amount proportionate to the benefit its residents would see. How this would be computed is as yet, unknown. The overall capital costs of the system are estimated at $1.3 billion and operating costs are estimated at $136 million a year; a needed boost compared to today’s approximately $55 million in annual operating expenses.

An RTA (Regional Transit Authority) would be created with the power to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the transit system. It would have an appointed board whose members would be experienced business and community leaders. The RTA should also be capable of leveraging private funding where applicable.

In conclusion there are a few thing to bare in mind. This is a plan that state lawmakers will pour over and consider when they decide to allow a referendum for November 2012. Republican lawmakers have been warm to talking about the plan which is a change from years passed. Today’s local show of support from elected officials is likely to bolster sentiments at the statehouse. If passed, the proposal would be adopted into the long range fiscally constrained plan at which point, REAL movement on the plan would occur. Until then, it is simply lines and words on paper that our lawmakers will consider allowing citizens to vote on.

We at Urban Indy have considered the plan and have a few thoughts & concerns.  We believe that this plan is a good compromise for getting a transit system off the ground. While it does not include electric light rail or streetcars it significantly improves bus service, creates real rapid transit corridors and will create an environment where citizens can depend on the transit system without having to pull out a schedule every time that they want to ride somewhere. We have wrote frequently about the value in a Broad Ripple to Downtown light rail line and it pleases us that there is at least a future light rail route that follows that closely in this proposal. We are concerned that there is not a robust land-use plan attached with this proposal but understand that land use is a municipal issue and will have to be negotiated along the way. We also have some concerns about BRT as a “place making” tool but if the right design is implemented, perhaps BRT can succeed here. We have been behind a push to authorize local officials to plan and fund a transit plan and authored a resolution in April supporting that. We are still behind that effort with this plan.

 Supporting Documents: (.pdf)

Comments 11

  • BRT up College would make me so, so happy. As it stands, if I want to take the bus to work, it’s either a 45min ride (1-way) where I also have to walk a mile to College, and transfer in Brip, or walk only a few blocks, require 2 transfers, and make it 1.25rs (1-way).

    Given that I bike to work as often as I can, I tend to drive in crummy weather, or when the Monon is iced/snowed over. So, walking to College isn’t ideal either, nor is spending 2.5 hours of my life commuting back and forth to work.

    I really, really hope this plan gets some traction. I mean, not just for my own benefit, but just to see mass transit bolstered more in general. This city needs it.

  • From what I saw, the plan seems to be lacking in detail about proposed levels of service for the northeast corridor. Previously, they were selling it as a sort of commuter rail at first, with rush-hour service from the suburbs to downtown, but with the idea of expanding it with many stops in the inner-city and all-day service in the future more like a typical light rail line. I’ve never believed that what starts as a commuter line will eventually be upgraded into a full-service line since that will add inner-city riders and lengthen travel time for those traveling greater distance, i.e. Noblesville to downtown. I too would much rather see rail on College Avenue or somewhere nearby than through a bunch of sparsely populated, heavily wooded subdivisions and auto-oriented apartment complexes.

    • Over at the Indyconnect page, if you click on the “rail transit” description, it says that during rush hours, it would run every 15 minutes and non-peak it would run every 30 minutes.
      I can tell you first hand that these decisions have not been finalized. It is just a framework. It is much better than initial commuter efforts in some other cities though. Austin for instance, did not even run a train through the middle of the day for the first year or so (maybe it was a little less). So the fact that expected service here would be at least every 30 through the day is promising. That is at least as good as some current bus service today and as far as a “commuter service” is concerned, I suppose not so bad. METRA commuter in Chicago runs on a similar schedule.
      Dont take my comment as a defense of the line, just pointing out the plans and some comparison. I agree with your point about frequent travel between long distance destinations and have written at length about College Ave being a better choice based on jobs and activity centers. I wouldn’t rule that route out. If this plan gets feet, there is always the possibility that private funding could sweep in and suggest funding a route like Carmel to Broad Ripple to DT since it creates many more economic opportunties for private development through the city.

  • excellent!! i’ve been waiting for this forever. this will be a very convenient way of traveling around indy!! such a good post.

  • I’m not sure if this plan will pass a referendum vote, and on some forums, some folks have inquired on why the powers-that-be just don’t jack the income tax on folks themselves. Obviously they fear a referendum defeat from people who will: #1: Think this plan is mostly to shuttle folks from Hamilton Co. to Downtown and back, five days a week, two times a day (the morning and afternoon rush hours). #2: Someone living in Westfield, Camby, Franklin Township, etc. will see this as a bailout for “someone else.” #3: Believe that the powers-that-be are so hell bent on rail, that if the rail system goes over budget, they will cut the bus service over and over to continue to prop up the rail line. Almost all of these concerns are being vetted on talk radio, comment sections, blogs, or forums. I’ve already spoke with two Marion Co. residents, and one expressed concerns with #1. The other who lives on the west side of Indy believes it is unfair for everyone to pay into the system with only a small % of the population being able to utilize the rail. They want rail spokes throughout the county.
    I know rail is the golden egg for all things transit, but the cost and non-flexibility of such a system gives people pause. Moving is costly, and folks know that any sort of new or existing residential areas around the stations will likely increase in value, so even people who would want to live close enough to use it (ie: Making the people flexible, not the rail) may end up not be able to afford to live in the area. I would liked to have seen a 10 year plan that focused on buses only. Then after ten years, put another referendum to the voters for the rail line.
    I guess time will tell. I’m just happy that those who will benefit the most will be paying for it. Let the voters decide.

    • Consider a few things Tim.
      I don’t drive on the west side of town. Or the SW side of town. Or the south side or the east side a lot of the time, but my tax dollars are spent there to maintain the roads, sidewalks, traffic signals, etc because all of our local streets are part of a system that keeps the entire region moving whether or not we all directly use them.
      Does it seem unfair that Fishers/Noblesville is getting rail first? Im sure to a lot of people without the ability to reason through it that is the case. The alternative you suggest is something that is likely not possible right now; funding rail spokes into all reaches of the region. The balance between making the first transit volley a somewhat inexpensive (comparatively speaking only) to what other cites have invested in is part o fmaking this system attractive to lawmakers. Consider that we live in a conservatively governed region and a plan that was $10billion of transit for rail lines everywhere would be D.O.A. as far as legislators are concerned. Not only that, residents would need to cough up at least 1% income tax or better and you know that would never fly either.
      As far as this plan focusing on buses, the vast majority of services being offered on this plan are bus options. THIS IS A BUS PLAN. There is 1 single rail line planned for the 10 year time frame. The rest is a tremendous increase in bus service. A doubling of local service compared to today and the additon of buses that will be REAL rapid transit options for people who chose to live in those areas.
      This is not a perfect plan. Believe me, those of us who are writers here have as a majority (although not all) have said that the plan should focus more on Marion County only and make that fly first. That light rail along certain corridors now instead of later would be more valuable. But we also understand the poltical constraints holding this thing where it is.

  • I have a question about the viability of the referendum. I’m a novice with all of this, but I love the idea of an expanded transit system in the region, and I think each iteration that has been submitted has been more likely to pass.

    That said, my question is about perception when it comes to voters. I agree with you, Curt, that huge bus expansion will mean real rapid transit for the citizens of Marion County. However, I think a lot of people will see that the upper income folks in Fishers and Noblesville are getting a shiny new train, while the lower income folks in Marion County are only getting more buses, which are perceived as less beneficial (economically), and less reliable, due to road and traffic conditions.

    I don’t necessarily agree with that viewpoint, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to see a lot of voters take that stance. So how does Indy Connect overcome that? How do they convince people living in say, the northwest side, where there will be no train, or even BRT, that they should support the plan?

    • John,

      It is a very common question and concern for any system, not just the Indyconnect proposal. The thoughts about the bus service come from years of neglect and abuse. Most of the time, people that comment negatively towards bus service have never used it…..I guess that makes them expert status. The only true way to combat this perception is to provide extremely clean, modern buses that are exceptionally convienent and efficient. You want the one time this person uses the system to be a good experience ie: wait time, on time and ride.

      In polls, the most common response in support is that the system will benefit those who rely on it even if the respondent doesn’t think they will themselves. This speaks to the tremendous social equality issues of transportation and the general good nature of people.

      Again, your concern is very, very real and the best we can do is offer the best service possible and this plan is a huge upgrade to local and regional bus service. You have seen the positive feedback form the express bus to Carmel. These are wealthier choice riders and the bus is clean, comfortable and they can be ensured of departure and arrival times.

  • There are potential benefits for suburban employers as well. They won’t take the bus to work, but public transit expands the size of the potential labor force for their businesses. Not everyone can afford a car, and those who can’t will limit themselves to transit accessible employment options.

    I’m still not convinced about the northeast corridor being commuter rail. It seems like a solution in search of a problem to me. There are other corridors that would potentially benefit as much or more from rail transit, but might be more expensive to construct. To me we should start with the demand first and then figure out the most cost-effective way to serve that demand rather than the other way around.

    • 100% agree. Let’s put rails on the ground where transit ridership is already high: the east-west corridor (Washington/NY/Michigan) and the north-south corridor (centered on Meridian south of 38th; centered on College north of there).

  • Good thing this post wasn’t about the NE Corridor….

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