Red Line contractors briefed amid potential lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- IndyGo officials told dozens of contractors in attendance at a pre-bid meeting at the Main Public Library Branch that if they can come back with bid proposals in September, and the IndyGo Board votes its approval in November, ground could be broken on the 13.5 mile Red Line from Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis by the end of the year with the first riders expected on board in early 2019.

And 2018 may be one continuing traffic construction headache from north to south for the whole year.

“We have certain specifications in the bidding documents that will constrain how much of the street can be torn up for how much amount of time and what the impacts are on the individual property owners along the line,” said IndyGo Spokesman Bryan Luellen. “There are also protections for the maintaining of traffic so one of the standards that we will maintain is that traffic is still going to have to pass through these streets. So it's up to the contractor to make sure these streets are passable during construction.”

IndyGo is proposing the construction of 28 stations, some of them mid-street platforms, others paired curbside locations, along the route which will commit 60 percent of the path to dedicated lanes for the mass transit electric buses.

“We’re going to have one schedule and one goal for this project and that’s to deliver that project for this community on time and in budget,” said Kevin Campbell, Vice President of HNTB, a construction management firm hired to oversee the project which will include work at road level and below and another phase for the bus stops. “We believe in the first six months those platforms are going to have to be constructed so that utility work and traffic control construction can be happening at the same time as the stations are being finished.”

Greg Medcalf of Tiger Solutions International, a supplier, said his company could net a million dollar contract on the project.

“It's going to be huge,” he observed. “It was an interesting comment about the neighbors because we know they’re going to be affected so that’s going to be a real cautious area that will have to be worked through I am sure.”

While IndyGo is moving forward with planning and securing contractors, business owners along North College Avenue who fear Red Line construction and permanent operation could force them to shut their doors are plotting legal action against the project.

"More than 40 small businesses and properties along College Ave. are pursuing their legal remedies.  The taking of private property is unnecessary to improving bus service on College Ave.,” read a statement from Chuck Mack, owner of Moe & Johnny's at 54th and College, and president of the College Avenue Business and Properties Organization.

“As members of the College Ave. Business and Properties Organization have learned about the unwieldy concrete hump-and-curb structure taking two lanes in the middle of College Ave. and the permanent loss of parking and driving lanes, the predatory taking of private property is the final straw."

While IndyGo claims its $800 offer to temporarily take control of a portion of Moe & Johnny’s parking lot will result in curb improvements, Mack claims the curb work will permanently alter his parking spaces and the ability of customers to arrive at his bar and restaurant.

The Red Line project is budgeted at $96 million with Congress promising to provide $50 million under a federal transit grant program.

IndyGo had sought $75 million in federal funding, but even its partial matching grant may now be in jeopardy as President Trump has proposed cutting the grant program.

“What we’ve seen typically is full funding grant agreements are for the full amount and not less than what has been authorized by Congress,” said Luellen, “so a possibility is that we get a full funding grant agreement for the full $75 million grant and not just the 50 that has been appropriated.”

Luellen said IndyGo expects it might receive the full amount over a two year payout, though a further reduction in the amount already approved by Congress could also occur.

He expects such an agreement to be signed before ground is broken for the Red Line.

Meanwhile, IndyGo officials are preparing to launch public meetings next month on Phase II of their mass transit plan, the proposed Purple Line connecting Lawrence with East 38th Street and eventually the Red Line.

At a projected cost of $140 million for the Purple Line, IndyGo is seeking $70 million from the same federal grant program that Trump has proposed reducing of eliminating.

“Even if the Small Starts funding program were to go away, IndyGo has the capacity to still deliver the Purple Line, the Blue Line (Phase III), and local route improvements,” said Luellen. “It’s a question of timing and there might be reductions to the scope.

“If the federal funding isn’t available, then some of those larger pieces of infrastructure that the city needs, that the roadway needs, could be reduced down and it could be a transit-only project instead of a larger infrastructure project that we had hoped.”

Last November Marion County taxpayers voted themselves a transit tax of $100 per $40,000 of income annually to fund improvements to the bus system.

The collection of that annual $54 million begins Oct. 1 with IndyGo receiving access to the money in 2018.