Mass transit votes won't come for two years 

By Emily Metheny

Central Indiana voters won't see proposals to raise taxes for mass transit on the ballots until at least 2016.

Lawmakers authorized the referendums in legislation that becomes law July 1 but local officials say they are only now in the planning stages for eventual votes - at least in Marion and Hamilton counties.

"I never felt this was a short-term plan," said Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, the author of the bill. The earliest the referendum could be on the ballet is 2016, but there will be a lot of educating voters on the issue, she said.

The law allows Marion, Madison, Johnson, Hancock, Hamilton and Delaware counties to host a referendum to increase taxes to pay for an "approved transportation project" that will likely be expanding bus routes but can't include light rail.

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Indy Connect is a coalition that pushed for the legislation. It includes the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, and IndyGo, the government agency that now provides bus service in Indianapolis. The group is hosting public meetings to talk about proposals for new routes, new buses and an expansion into the region.

"It's always a challenge to get people informed," said Shawn Northup, assistant executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. We're "just trying to help interested parties understand the legislation."

He said that the group explains the impact, benefits and "how the plans come together" to the public.

Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman said the process right now in her county is focusing on how to use the money that would be generated by higher taxes. One item to discuss is the cost of service as well as the type of service that the community wants - before focusing on a ballot referendum. She said the earliest that would happen is 2016.

Initially, Hamilton County officials started working on a plan with Indy Connect. However, Altman said they first want focus on plans that suit the needs and wants of their constituents, while keeping in mind how the system would connect with other counties.

Some of the planning has been under way for years. Legislation had been the biggest hold up in moving forward with plans, Northup said. Soon, it will be up to voters.

While waiting, planning continues for "if and when money is available," said Northup.

That planning won't include light rail, something IndyConnect had originally proposed but was prohibited in the new law.

Miller said there wasn't enough support for it due to its high expense, technology issues, and the time it would take to build the rails, Miller said. There was also a desire for "more flexibility and routes" in the transportation systems, she said.

Emily Metheny is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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