Red Line supporters, opponents react to congressional budget funding

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- IndyGo is now just one step from getting the funding needed to build its Red Line.

Monday, the proposed congressional budget shows $50 million for the first of three rapid transit routes.

That’s on top of the $54 million a year they’ll get from the income tax hike Marion County voters said yes to in November.

Under the Obama administration, IndyGo was initially promised $75 million from the grant program.

A passing vote in Congress though, would spell defeat for the opponents who have spent more than a year fighting the Red Line on College Avenue.

For a few months, it seemed touch-and-go whether IndyGo would get this federal money.

Opponents were hoping if IndyGo missed out on the funding, they might be more willing to go back to the drawing board for the Red Line.

Meanwhile, IndyGo had changed course from its messaging ahead of the November election, stating they would use income tax hike funds for the Red Line if they didn't receive federal money.

“Don’t get us wrong,” said Steve Habig, who owns Habig Garden Shop at 52nd and College. “We’re for mass transit, but I think they can improve the buses that they already have.”

The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce fought hard alongside other supporters for federal Red Line funding.

They maintain that connecting more people to jobs is necessary and that improved public transit can help recruit the brightest young professionals.

But Habig and some other business owners on College say this particular fight, for the Red Line, is going to cost them a lot of money.

“It’s not going to help our business,” said Habig.

In fact, he and others believe some small businesses along College could go under due to the financial burdens of construction and the loss of parking when the Red Line is built.

“I feel like it’s been kind of rammed down everybody’s throat,” said Jarmin. “This is what we’re doing whether you like it or not.”

While IndyGo would’ve liked to get the full $75 million commitment now, they issued a statement today saying, in part, that since summer there were “indications that the grant award would likely be split.”

Whether they will see the final $25 million next year, remains to be seen, a point of contention for the Indy Chamber. They want to see more sustained, reliable commitment to public transportation.

Representative Andre Carson, member of the House Transportation Committee, will be voting on the final budget sometime this week.

In a statement, he called the future Red Line “the backbone of our future transit system” and “a major step forward for our city”.

Jarmin, who like Habig wants to see improved public transit, doesn’t believe the backbone of the city’s future should run through College Avenue.

“This is a flourishing neighborhood already,” said Jarmin. “It’s already densely populated. I think with congested traffic, the limited lanes, the removal of parking availability throughout the neighborhood, will be a detriment to our business for sure.”

Constructing the Red Line will take years. IndyGo officials say they want to minimize disruptions, by starting the project where there’s already city construction, specifically along Capitol and Meridian.

Habig says they’ve also told business owners they’ll try to preserve parking for delivery trucks.

“You know they always say, they’ll work with you, but we’ll see,” said Habig. “We’ll see.”

A vote on the budget is expected in the house by the end of the week. If it passes, IndyGo spokesperson Bryan Luellen says they plan to start construction sometime in the fall.