House committee approves mass transit expansion plan

INDIANAPOLIS – A bill that would boost mass transit in Central Indiana passed through a House committee Wednesday morning—but it’s just the first step in a long process.

The House Roads and Transportation Committee approved House Bill 1011 in an 11-1 vote. The bill still has to go through the House Ways and Means Committee before making it to the full House.

“I thought actually we might have a couple of no votes,” said the bill’s author, State Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel. “But we were fairly confident it was going to pass out of the committee.”

“People need to understand the risks before they vote on a public question,” said State Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, who cast the only dissenting vote.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the council to come up with a plan before they approve the referendum,” said Speedy.

The proposal would double bus service, add express bus routes and create corridors for rapid transit such as light rail. To pay for the improvements, the bill calls for a tax of 0.3 percent on Marion and Hamilton counties. Federal money would only cover about half of the system’s cost.

Supporters want a referendum in the 2014 general election to let voters decide how to pay for the expansion. The $1.3 billion plan would build rail from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis and expand IndyGo. Marion and Hamilton counties already plan to hold referendums. Surrounding counties would have the option of joining the system later.

Amanda Fishburn supports the idea of a rail line, but hopes it would also be expanded to the east side, where she lives.

“I would hope it would service all of the communities,” Fishburn said. “I think a lot of times, we just worry about north-to-south, and I would hope it would service the east-to-west communities as well.”

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard—an advocate of improved mass transit in the Circle City and surrounding areas—praised Wednesday’s vote.

“Today’s overwhelming vote of support is a good first step to developing a modern regional mass transit system,” Ballard said. “There are still many other steps in this long process, but today Central Indiana is one step closer to making this decades-long dream a reality.”

Ballard previously said that mass transit was a key factor in attracting more businesses to Central Indiana.

Transportation officials hope today’s vote is a sign of things to come.

“Clearly there’s some work to be done, and we’re going to work on that as it goes forward to Ways and Means, but today’s a good day to keep this legislation going forward,” said Ehren Bingaman, executive director, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority.

“Some folks are concerned about the costs and the tax aspect of it, and those are legitimate concerns,” said Torr. “But I’m hoping, in the end, people will see it will be beneficial to the region.”

If the plan goes through, expansion could start in 2014. It would take an estimated eight years to complete.

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