The consortium behind Indy Connect, the long-range transportation plan for Central Indiana, is pushing ahead with phase one of the project, which encompasses the next 10 years.
They've been conducting public meetings on proposed mass transit lines connecting doughnut counties with downtown Indianapolis. One of those forums was last week at IndyGo headquarters to discuss the Blue Line, a 24-mile corridor along Washington Street that would connect Cumberland on the Eastside to either Indianapolis International Airport or downtown Plainfield.
John Myers of HNTB, project manager for the Blue Line, says it's considered one of the higher priorities in the Indy Connect plan.
"There are a lot of destinations along this corridor," he said. They include IUPUI, the Indianapolis Zoo and White River State Park, Plainfield Business Park and the Metropolis Mall, and of course the airport and downtown.
Planners are still pinning down its alignment, though the front-runner is Washington Street/U.S. 40 because it's already built out. That would follow IndyGo's Route 8, which is the most used in the system.
Another question is how far west to extend the Blue Line. Last year the Plainfield Connector began picking up commuters at IndyGo's Route 8 stop on Bridgeport Road between Washington Street and Perimeter Road to take them to Plainfield's industrial parks and Metropolis. Otherwise there's no regular bus service to Plainfield, and Indy Connect planners wonder whether the population density is high enough there to expand service. IIA is the highest ridership destination on the Westside for IndyGo.
One question that's much more settled is the mode of transportation that would be used. Bus rapid transit is much more economical than light rail. San Diego spends $165.4 million per mile for its light rail service. Even at its cheapest, in Salt Lake City, it's just over $51 million per mile. That would equate to about $1.2 billion just for the Blue Line corridor — about the entire Indy Connect capital expenditure budget.
"Bus rapid transit is a lot cheaper," Myers said. "It also provides a good service."
Michael Terry, president and CEO of IndyGo, says the only difference between the transportation modes is that bus rapid transit is on rubber tires. Otherwise it can have dedicated lanes, signal prioritization, and have more spacious vehicles like subway cars. Light rail is only seen as potentially feasible for the proposed Green Line, which would connect Noblesville to downtown. The other corridor in phase one is the Red Line, connecting Carmel to Greenwood. A Purple Line that would travel east to west along 38th Street has been proposed for a later phase.
Indy Connect, developed by IndyGo along with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization and Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, was adopted in December 2010. Since then the consortium has conducted more than 250 public meetings and received more than 10,000 comments.
"This has been a very robust process since 2010," Terry said. "We feel like we're working hard, but we have to constantly ensure the community understands the plan and continue to receive feedback."
Phase one of Indy Connect is projected to cost $1.3 billion to build, followed by annual operation costs of $150 million in 10 years. Planners hope to leverage as many federal dollars as possible, as well as use private equity. House Bill 1011, which is currently being considered by the Indiana Senate, seeks a public referendum to vote on a 3/10 of 1 percent Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) increase to help fund the expanded mass transit.
As it stands Indianapolis is the 23rd largest metro area in the nation, but its bus fleet ranks 84th. Of all IndyGo riders, 70 percent have no other transportation options. Only 61 percent of jobs in Marion County can be accessed by transit, which doesn't rank high nationally.
"These aren't good numbers," Terry said. "They're things we need to improve, and that's part of our planning."