Mass transit bill heads to study committee

Published: .
Updated: .

The push for mass transit hit a detour at the Indiana Statehouse Tuesday. A Senate committee recommended the billion-dollar proposal be sent to a summer study committee.

It has been on the list of things to accomplish in Indianapolis for decades. The city's push for mass transit went off the tracks Tuesday at the Indiana Statehouse.

Earlier this year, mass transit supporters launched a new initiative to encourage Indiana lawmakers to expand mass transit options for Indianapolis and surrounding communities.

The ten-year, $1.3 billion transit expansion plan would have cost taxpayers an estimated $10 to $15 a month for the average worker.

But Tuesday comes word from Senate Republicans that they would like more time to find the most equitable way to tax and explore public private partnerships.

Sen. Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) says the Senate needs time to explore more options.

"There are some communities that have private entities that offer these kinds of services. I believe New York has opened theirs up. Private companies do it," said Sen. Young.

The plan included more than just bus transit. It also included a 22-mile rapid rail line from Noblesville all the way down to Indianapolis - which sounds vaguely familiar to a vision of former longtime Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut who was first elected in 1975.

"That we would have rapid transit between here and Bloomington and up to Purdue, a triangle. I also had a dream we would use the old Monon Trail to go up to Noblesville, Carmel, what have you, but none of that ever happened," said Hudnut.

A packed Senate committee room listened as lawmakers said there is still time to get this bill back on track, a point reiterated by State Senator Pat Miller following the Tuesday committee hearing.

"In my opinion there is still adequate time for legislation to be filed next session and for the referendum to be held in 2014," said Miller.

Bill author Rep. Jerry Torr says that would actually leave less time to educate the voters about the referendum, so he says he will continue to work toward a compromise this session.

"We have a live bill. As long as we have a live bill we have something to work with," he said.

The bill will now advance on to the full Senate. The House already passed out the bill so lawmakers will still have a chance to craft a compromise in conference committee. For this session that may be the measure's last chance.

The goal was to hit a referendum in November 2014. Lawmakers believe they can still hit that goal - after the summer study committee, place it before the legislature next year and give voters the option next year. They also say this committee will be "beefed up" compared to the previous mass transit summer study.