Indianapolis examining possible projects to deal with rail traffic through downtown

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INDIANAPOLIS — The City of Indianapolis is once again examining the possibility of removing rail traffic through downtown.

In late October, the Department of Metropolitan Development released a Request for Qualification for a feasibility study, cost analysis, and impact analysis for the project. The city is focusing on six major conflict points

  • East Michigan Street
  • East New York Street
  • Vermont Street
  • St. Clair Street
  • South Harding Street (two crossings)

In the request, the department said the current alignment of these rail lines crosses these major streets that, during peak hours, could result in significant delays.

The city also mentioned that future IndyGo investments include a line operating along East Michigan Street, which could conflict with the rail lines, potentially resulting in delays to the city’s local transit system.

In a statement, the Department of Metropolitan Development said the overall goal would be to determine what solutions may be on the table and strategies for potential funding.

At the end of October, the City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development released a Request for Qualifications, calling for a team to conduct a comprehensive analysis, feasibility study, and conceptual design to resolve the conflicts that come about with at-grade freight rail traffic through Downtown Indianapolis. 

The selected consultants will be required to examine the potential impacts of various options and how each interacts with existing plans and efforts that are being carried out by the City, including the Indianapolis Greenways Plan, Indy Moves, White River Vision Plan, and various other community development and urban planning initiatives. 

The ultimate objective of the RFQ is to determine what solutions may be on the table and strategies for potential funding. The City and CSX Transportation (the owner of the trackage) are working closely together throughout this effort to ensure that any possible solution is technically and operationally feasible and of a mutual benefit to the City and to the railway companies. 

The City does not have a specific solution in mind, but we are rather searching for varying possibilities that may include a range of strategic methods for reducing at-grade conflicts between trains, motorists, pedestrians, bicycle riders, and transit riders.  

City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development

Some of the initiatives and special projects that the department mentioned in the request include:

  • Sherman Park Redevelopment Area
  • Twin Aire Great Places 2020 Plan
  • River West Great Places 2020 Plan
  • Planned rehabilitation of five Union Station railway underpasses spanning from delaware Street to Capitol Avenue
  • LIFT Indy program implementation within the Old Southside neighborhood and the East 10th Street area
  • Elanco development at the site of the former GM Stamping Plant
  • The Marion County Greenways Plan
  • The IndyMoves Integrated Transportation Plan (including Pedal Indy bike plan)
  • The Marion County Transit Plan
  • Reconnecting Our Waterways Plan/White River Plan
  • Amtrak Connect US
  • Indiana State Rail Plan

This is not the first time the city has examined the possibility of rerouting rail lines. In 2003, the Paterson administration heard from Eli Lily and Company about a plan to eliminate all downtown rail lines. This would include traffic to Union Station, which at the time was envisioned as a hub of a future rail system.

The focus in the 2003 report was to fix vehicular and pedestrian movement between the Lilly Corporate Center and its expansion. In its proposal, the Indianapolis Star reports Lilly did not bring CSX or Amtrak into its discussion.

In this latest look, the department is working closely with rail operators on the main line and Belt Railway, including CSX, the Indiana Railroad, the Lousiville & Indiana Railroad, and Amtrak. Those doing the analysis would need to consider daily train traffic, passenger rail access, and inter-rail yard movements within the region.

The alternatives would also need to address vulnerable populations around the work area and assess potential negative environmental factors from new investments.

While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act had not been passed when the department put out the request, they did include that whoever does the feasibility study would need to make sure any potential plans would be compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act. The department also said they are keeping their options open when it comes to best fit and timing.

The request closed on November 24, and on Wednesday the process began for an internal team review, possible presentations and a team selection. On December 22, the department has tentative plans for scope refinement, legislative approvals, a notice to proceed and contract execution.

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