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City officials work to measure benefits of proposed Red Line

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- For several years leading to the late 2016 run-up to the general election, IndyGo officials and their allies made lots of predictions about the win-win a new transit income tax and improved bus system would have for Marion County, its residents, its bus riders, its employers and property owners.

Now the Metropolitan Planning Organization is seeking a researcher to measure the proposed Red Line’s benefits vs. IndyGo’s promises.

“We are measuring the impact of the Red Line, in particular on land use and property values around the stations,” wrote MPO Senior Planner Jen Higginbotham. “We will take a 2018 baseline measure and mirror the study in 2022, so we can evaluate the project’s impacts.”

Last year, Indy Chamber supporters predicted businesses would expand, workers would be hired and distressed properties would be developed and increase in value along the proposed Red Line route from Broad Ripple to downtown and on to the University of Indianapolis if voters approved a new $54 million per year transit income tax.

The measure passed by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

IndyGo has estimated that public transit service will increase 70 percent in the next four years while ridership will climb one percent for every percent of service improvement countywide.

Fare box revenues are expected to jump 50 percent to $16 million a year even while fewer people are riding the bus and the price of a ticket won’t go up more than 25 cents in the next eight years.

“It seems to me to be a way to establish a method so they can set a baseline for a ‘before’ what was the demographics along the bus line in 2017,” said Mickey Edwards, University of Cincinnati Adjunct Professor who studies public transit issues. “How many jobs were there? How many people live there? What type of person lived there? What was the average income? All these different things as a ‘before’ snapshot of the street and the corridor and compare that to an ‘after.'

“It’s a very simple before-after type of study.”

The request for qualifications (RFQ) to research and create the “Red Line Before and After Analysis” seeks more than a dozen statistical findings including, daily ridership, capital costs, operating costs and construction time, along with, household demographics, assessed property values, population and jobs density, transportation costs per household, usage and understanding of the Red Line and existing conditions.

“It's between estimating the impact and measuring the impact,” said Edwards.

While IndyGo presentations and interviews have consistently highlighted statistical promises, a transit agency spokeswoman told FOX59 News the agency’s request for a $75 million federal grant was based on existing local and federal databases.

“Some of this data will be completely new,” wrote Lauren Day. “This study will not impact the timeline or implementation of the Red Line.”

The new transit tax, which will cost workers $100 for every $40,000 of annual income, will be collected beginning Oct. 1.

Later that month, IndyGo’s board of directors expects to pick a general contractor and other companies to begin work on the 28 stations planned for the 13.5-mile Red Line route with ground broken by the end of the year.

The MPO researcher will start collecting data at the same time for a final report due by the end of 2018, just months before the Red Line ribbon cutting.

Meanwhile, eminent domain disputes continue to plague IndyGo and some property owners along its proposed route.

A number of owners claim the proposed property seizures will cripple their businesses while others insist IndyGo’s financial offers are too paltry.

Some disaffected property owners along the North College Avenue leg of the Red Line are considering a legal review of the IndyGo process in promoting the Red Line and gaining federal grant approval.