Budget cuts recommended by President Trump puts Red Line funding in question

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– More questions are swirling around the future of IndyGo’s Red Line and Purple Line mass transit projects after President Donald Trump recommended Congress make deep cuts to the grant programs that help fund them.

President Trump wants Congress to cut more than $50 billion from public transit-oriented grants in the 2019 federal budget. The capital improvement grants are geared toward funding public transportation infrastructure projects like IndyGo’s Red Line and Purple Line plans.

IndyGo President and CEO Mike Terry was part of a panel discussion with other public transportation leaders in Washington Monday and joined them in opposing the recommended cuts.

“Our first rapid transit line, the Red Line, was awarded a Small Starts grant and will connect nearly 150,000 jobs and 50,000 residents in Indianapolis,” Terry told the panel. “Without the catalyst of CIG federal funding in partnership with dedicated local funds, these life-changing projects will not continue to be possible.”

In 2016, Marion County voters approved an income tax increase to help pay for the $96 million Red Line project. They were told their tax dollars would cover about 25 percent of the cost, while federal grant money would cover more than 75 percent of the cost. A Small Starts grant of roughly $75 million was awarded, and $50 million of that money was written into the 2017 federal budget.

But that $50 million has yet to arrive in Indianapolis, and proposed future cuts are raising questions about whether the remaining $25 million will ever come.

“This is costing money locally as we delay some of these projects, or having to go out and rebid,” Terry said. “They’re coming in under budget right now, but further delays will just cause more challenges on the local side.”

A year ago, IndyGo documents showed the Red Line project could be built without the help of federal funding, but construction would be delayed by three years and bond debt would double to $175 million.

The plan for the Purple Line would call for a nearly $70 million dollar grant to cover about half the project cost. That grant has not yet been awarded or budgeted.

Jessica Gail, spokesperson for Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), said she still expects the budgeted $50 million to arrive in Indianapolis as some point. She also said Representative Carson will fight hard to hold on to the remaining $25 million for the Red Line project.

“Just as Trump’s ‘skinny budget’ for fiscal year 2018, Congress has ignored the administration’s recommendation to eliminate or drastically cut transit funding, because there is broad bipartisan support in Congress for these programs,” Gail said in a statement. “We certainly can’t ignore these proposals, but Congress approves appropriations and we will continue to work with our colleagues from across the country to fund important transit and other infrastructure programs with real federal investments.”