After years of study, the local business community, as
represented by the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, is now endorsing plans
to modernize and improve the regional transportation system — including a
0.3 percent local income tax increase to fund the effort.
Two major hurdles — both related to funding —
remain before such plans can be actualized. First, the Indiana General Assembly must
endow Central Indiana communities with the authority to vote on tax increases
dedicated to implementing local plans and enable the creation of a regional
transportation authority to oversee the process. Second, the voters must decide
that such improvements are needed and that the proposed plan is sufficient to
satisfy that need.
The task force is an outreach of four main groups: the
Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, which brings together local chief
executives and university presidents to explore strategies for long-term
prosperity in the region; the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce; the
"It is important for taxpayers to decide for themselves
whether they think there's adequate value for their money," said CICP
Chief Executive Mark Miles at a news conference Tuesday.
Based on three years of study, and "more due diligence,
scrutiny and economic analysis ... than perhaps any other planning process of
this type anywhere in the country," Miles voiced confidence that voter
support could be won.
A roomful of business leaders and politicians packed the
room as other local leaders rose to offer their endorsements.
"This proposal, if approved by the General Assembly and
the voters in 2012, will have a dramatic impact on our region,"
"We can make this thing happen. I invite all of you to
join us on that journey."
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, who, like Ballard is a
Republican, also voiced support of the plan, which he said would provide better
access to jobs, health care and educational opportunities, as well as greater
flexibility to people who can't drive.
The bottom line
The task force plan was developed in concert with the
Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, IndyGo and the Central Indiana
Regional Transportation Authority. The plan reflects input collected during
public meetings hosted by Indy Connect.
Phase One of the regional transportation plan proposes
several improvements to local bus service: a doubling of the service in Marion
County and expansion to Hamilton County; the creation of four bus rapid transit
routes, which feature dedicated lanes and prioritized signals, "like a
light rail on wheels," supporters say; six express routes offering
non-stop service among major economic corridors and the airport; andshuttle bus service connecting to
downtown high-traffic areas such as IU Health, Eli Lilly and IUPUI. Shuttle
connectors would also run in the downtowns of Lawrence, Carmel, Fishers and
In addition, the plan calls for rail service along the
Indiana State Fair train line from downtown to Noblesville. Proposed stops
include the near Eastside, Martindale-Brightwood, the Binford area, Castleton,
Fishers and the fairgrounds.
The first phase also provides for feasibility and design
studies to consider improved transit to other adjacent counties, including
Hendricks and Johnson, and additional connections to the airport, including
Boosters estimate the first phase of the proposed plan would
require a $1.3 billion initial capital investment with annual operating costs
pegged at $136 million. They estimate this tax would translate to $10 a month
for a family of four making $50,000 a year.
The plan would cost "a lot of money," Brainard said. But, he added, noting road construction and
maintenance costs, "All transportation is expensive."
The plan is devised so that the tax levies will return
benefits to the counties that pay into the system. In the first phase, Marion
and Hamilton counties have the option to buy in, but both must do so to make the plan work. If other counties decide to
buy in, their taxes will support the linking of their county into the larger
The the task force's proposal would be drafted so that the proposed tax increase would not take effect unless both Marion and Hamilton counties opt in, CICP's Ron Gifford explained in a follow-up phone call.
"Demonstrating that we can work together as a region is
only going to make Central Indiana more attractive for businesses to come in
and invest," said Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman, a
Republican who also serves as chair of the Central Indiana Regional Transit
Looking toward the
While the long-term transportation plans involve all the
surrounding counties except Shelby, the initial phase focuses on Marion and
Hamilton counties and voters there would be first to consider ballot referenda.
If the General Assembly clears the way, the question will appear on ballots in
the 2012 general election.
Transit boosters say they have supporters in the fiscal
leadership of both the House and Senate willing to shepherd enabling
legislation through the General Assembly. Bill sponsors have yet to be announced.
Despite the wide-spread support among several sectors, from
business to public health advocates, the transit plan cannot be characterized
as an easy sell to legislators or voters against tax increases or certain that
the plan will not realize its promised benefits.
Reader feedback to a recent Web posting about the plan by
the Indianapolis Business Journal characterized
such sentiment. "Transit systems in American cities are a joke; failures
that bleed taxpayers dry," read one of several comments opposed to various
aspects of the plan.
Boosters counter that the plan offers "broad-based
dividends." CICP's Miles said he hoped state
lawmakers would view the proposal "less as a legislative vote for a tax
and more allowing the people to decide for themselves."
Supporters are already rallying their legislative lobby.
which currently includes more than 4,300 signatures. At its
Greening the Statehouse forum held last weekend, the Hoosier Environmental
Council, collected letters to lawmakers expressing support for the plan.
During the forum, CICP Executive Vice President Ron Gifford
told the crowd that inability to provide robust mass transit would hurt the
region's ability to compete for jobs and new residents.
Developing support means gathering both people who will use
the system and people who don't plan to use the system but believe it's
important for others to have access to such a system, he said.
Gifford concluded, "Your
support at the grassroots level absolutely critical."
Editor's Note: The online version of this story differs slightly from the print version in that it clarifies what will happen if Marion or Hamilton County fails to pass the referenda and it removes an extraneous "s" from Gifford's last name in the story's final paragraph.