INDIANAPOLIS — When the IndyGo Board of Directors recently decided to slash a segment of the proposed Blue Line that would have connected Holt Road with Indianapolis International Airport along West Washington Street, it carved $52 million out of its planned budget that was set aside for long overdue westside infrastructure upgrades.
”In the city of Indianapolis, it is one of the highest pedestrian fatality areas,” said District 22 Councilor Jared Evans, a democrat representing Wayne Township. “It’s an infrastructure that is needed, it was gonna be reconstructive roads, sidewalks, multi-use paths, stormwater system because people’s homes flood from the stormwater coming off Washington Street. This was a once-in-a-lifetime investment. It was something that was gonna improve the quality of life.”
Segment One of the Blue Line, as IndyGo refers to the westside link, was jettisoned when the transit system determined that its estimated cost of the project had ballooned from $220 million to $520 million even without the surface street final stretch to the airport.
”This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get that investment, to revitalize our communities,” said Evans, “and the thing that I keep hitting home is that, the issue is, the state legislature gets involved and doesn’t come up with a solution.”
Evans was talking specifically about State Senator Aaron Freeman, a republican representing Franklin Township, who previously served on the City-County Council and even back then was questioning the wisdom of IndyGo and its commitment to the proposed Red, Blue and Purple Lines knitting together Marion County along bus rapid transit routes running north-to-south through downtown and east-to-west along Washington Street.
”IndyGo is not sustainable. The funding is not sustainable and at some point the city of Indianapolis and local leaders are going to have to have that conversation,” said Freeman. ”We gotta talk about, how’s this thing sustainable? What program can we have that gets people to and from the airport? How do we get people to and from work? That is very, very critical.”
Freeman authored or supported unsuccessful legislation proposed during the three most recent General Assembly sessions that sought to hold IndyGo fiscally accountable to the state statute that granted the transit system the authority to pursue its successful referendum creating a new income tax in 2017 to fund service expansion.
One of those failed bills would have banned IndyGo’s plan to run the Blue Line along dedicated lanes on Washington Street which would relegate traditional vehicles to single-file travel.
”The entire route, all of it, should be shared lanes. There’s no part of Washington Street that should be dedicated for buses and take away those lanes of travel,” said Freeman. ”You really want to force cars to have one lane of traffic the length of Washington Street? That is not good.”
IndyGo anticipates the federal government will dedicate $100 million toward the Blue Line as long as the route has dedicated bus lanes.
Elimination of Segment One or reconsideration of its commitment to dedicated lanes could force IndyGo to rework its grant request.
“IndyGo continues to analyze our options and work with all stakeholders involved as we maintain our commitment to complete a transit project along Washington Street that delivers efficient, accessible and rapid service to the community,” read an IndyGo statement issued today to FOX59 News. “The analysis we are planning will help us prepare our update for the grant submission to the Federal Transit Administration. If this change in definition for the project were to have an impact on our scoring, we’ll know what we need to address and will have the time to do so before submitting our final grant request.”
Evans puts the blame for the Blue Line’s escalating costs on inflation, utility expenses and uncertainty due to the defeated legislative attempts to curb IndyGo’s plans.
”This thing has been delayed by two years and it’s been delayed mostly because the state legislature has fought this,” said Evans. ”We’re trying to come up with creative measures to pay for the infrastructure that our community deserves to have and these guys are over here with their suits and ties making up all kinds of crap and ruined it for us.
”We’re gonna lose out on a lot of private dollar investment. You put in the public infrastructure, you provide the transit system, the next thing you know, you’ve got private dollars coming in, trying to build mixed-use developments,” he said. ”We look like fools now for having put our faith in this project that it was gonna be done with the Blue Line, we delayed maintenance, it was probably only gonna be a repave, but, it was a way that we figured.”
Freeman said IndyGo’s track record of failed promises, missed goals and construction mistakes has doomed the Blue Line project.
”The ridership numbers that IndyGo predicted never hit where they should be. They didn’t hit them when the service was free,” said Freeman, recalling IndyGo’s free service to introduce the Red Line in 2019 and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic the year after. ”The pandemic and some of the relief dollars that came from the pandemic has shored up IndyGo’s budgets and their finances for a little while but that’s not gonna last forever.”
By state statute, IndyGo was required to raise $5 million through non-grant or farebox revenues as a ten percent match of its take of the first year of transit income tax funding, a goal it’s never come close to reaching.
IndyGo also provided overly optimistic claims that ridership would climb substantially once the Red Line began operating.
”They’re nowhere close to 25% of their overall budget, the entire budget of IndyGo, coming from the fare box. It is not happening,” said Freeman. ”The legislature had nothing to do with IndyGo’s failed rollout of this thing. The legislature had nothing to do with four months of the service being free, ridership not meeting their goals. The legislature had nothing to do with IndyGo not being able to meet anywhere close to the ridership goals that they already had. The legislature had nothing to do with pavement being poured and now it’s torn up and now we gotta go redo all of that. The legislature had nothing to do with hundreds of millions of dollars of cost overruns that this service does.”
The Blue Line’s groundbreaking has been delayed from 2020 until 2024.