Red Line work a go in Indy, local plans in flux

A long discussed mass transit system is set to begin construction in Marion County, but when — or if — it will come further south has not yet been decided.

The Red Line, a rapid transit bus system that will run from Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis in Marion County, is set to begin construction next year and be up and running by 2019, according to a news release from IndyGo, the Indianapolis public transit service.

Plans for the system long have shown the route coming south into Greenwood, and also heading north into Hamilton County.

But while taxpayers in Marion County already approved have an income tax increase to pay for the rail line there, voters here never have been asked.

The soonest that vote could happen is in next year’s general election, and local officials aren’t sure yet whether it will be on the ballot.

In order to bring any kind of mass transit system to Johnson County, that referendum must happen first. But even if it doesn’t, construction of the Red Line in Marion County is set to continue, officials said.

“We are planning on a south extension up to County Line Road, regardless of what happens with Johnson County,” said Bryan Luellen, IndyGo vice president of public affairs and communications.

IndyGo officials have continued meeting and talking with local officials, including Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers. Their role is not to advocate for or against the project, but to help educate officials and the community on the project and the process, Luellen said.

Myers is a proponent of the project, but said he has not had discussions recently about putting the funding option to a vote. That would be a decision made by the Pleasant Township Advisory Board, since voters in the area that the route would go have to approve paying for it.

One piece of information they still need is the cost estimate for the project, Myers said. His hope is to get that information, and then go to township officials to discuss a possible vote as soon as next year.

Greenwood officials have planned for the Red Line route to come south, including incorporating the project in plans to redesign and rebuild Madison Avenue so that stops planned in Greenwood match with their plans for that area, he said. Stops are planned at Greenwood Park Mall, Main Street and Smith Valley Road.

“We want to incorporate it all together, coincide with what we are doing there,” Myers said.

If the funding option for the route goes to a public vote in Johnson County, it will be up to local organizations to advocate for or against it, Luellen said.

In Marion County, the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce was a big supporter of the project, and campaigned to get the referendum approved, he said. For residents, that meant a .25 percent increase in the income tax.

And that has allowed the first phase of the project, expected to cost nearly $46 million, to move forward, he said. Earlier this month, environmental studies were completed for the section that will run from the University of Indianapolis to the county line, he said.

But the law states that money can only be spent in the county where it is collected, meaning money that comes from Marion County taxpayers can’t pay for any work in Johnson County, he said.

Planning is continuing for the southern section of the route, and IndyGo will work closely with officials in Johnson County, Luellen said.

“IndyGo is focused on long-term planning, working with our partners to get something implemented if the funding source is approved,” Luellen said.

At a glance

Here is a look at what’s next for the Red Line:

2018

First quarter: Construction is set to begin on the first phase of the rapid transit bus line, from Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis.

November: The soonest local voters could be asked to approve or deny funding in a public referendum. Whether that will be on the ballot is not yet known.

2019

Spring: First phase of Red Line in Indianapolis set to be up and running.

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.