House committee passes $1.3B mass transit bill

A $1.3B mass transit bill faces an uphill battle in the House.

A House bill that would let voters decide on a $1.3 billion mass transit plan passed the House Ways and Means committee Wednesday afternoon on 20-2 vote. The bill now moves to the full House, where it could face an uphill battle.

The bill would allow voters in Marion and Hamilton counties to decide thru a referendum, whether to raise the local income tax three-tenths of one percent to help fund the transit plan.

The first phase of Indy Connect would provide rapid bus transit and possibly light rail along five of the busiest corridors, including the northeast corridor, from Noblesville to downtown. It would also double bus service in the metro area.

While many local leaders support the plan, including Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, several lawmakers are wary about the cost. They fear it will greatly outweigh the benefits and worry about taxpayers getting saddled with a tax increase, even if the majority of voters approve it.

Along for the ride

Wednesday morning, Citybeat Reporter Mary Milz joined a Fishers woman during her daily commute downtown to see what's at stake.

Before taking off from the Target parking lot at 116th and I-69, I asked Carol Beadle to describe her commute.

"My commute is typically very busy, slow-going and frustrating," she said.

Carol drives from Fishers to her job downtown at least four days a week. It's a 20-mile drive that takes her down the dreaded I-69/Binford corridor.

As we went down the on-ramp she noted, "this looks typical, but at least it's moving."

We left at 8:15 in the morning, but Carol usually waits until 8:30 to avoid the stop-and-go traffic that's become so common and such a headache for so many north side drivers.

As we merged, the brake lights ahead lit up. For a short time we putzed along at 14-15 miles an hour, but it soon picked up.

As Carol explained, "there's a window of opportunity you can hit and if you're really lucky and nothing's happened earlier that's slowed things down and backed them up, it's easy."

We hit the window Carol was talking about. Just half an hour earlier, we would have been stuck in traffic, moving at a crawl. I saw that southbound traffic creeping along as I drove north on 69 to meet Carol.

It's stressful, she says, especially if you have a meeting you need to get to.

"And there's nothing worse than showing up late," she said. "And you know the old excuse? I'm coming from Fishers? It's all you have to say and people say, 'you poor thing.'"

Not surprisingly, Carol is all behind plans to expand mass transit in the metro area.

"Just the simple fact that if we have something like that, these roads and the people that use them wouldn't be parking lots," she said, adding it's also an environmental issue. "We are a growing city and anything we can do to control air pollution should be looked at."

Carol says even though she couldn't take full advantage of, say, light rail, because her job requires travel, she would have no problem paying more in local income taxes to fund it.

"If you look at the amount, what's it really going to be?" she said. "When you look at the traffic and the wear and tear on roads that's very costly."

Asked what she'd tell lawmakers who oppose the plan?

"I think they need to come down here and drive this for a week," she said. "Think about all the people going to work or dropping their kids off. That effects our economy....Why not make it easier?"

On this day, Carol's drive was easy.

As we drove down Pennsylvania, the last stretch of her commute, she laughed, "we're doing this in record time, record time!"

She pulled up to her downtown parking garage in just 30 minutes. But she hit that "window," knowing tomorrow could be a whole different story and fearing that the "window" is certain to keep getting smaller.

Transit Day at the Statehouse