Light rail still dominates mass transit debate

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – State lawmakers will wrap up the 2014 Indiana General Assembly this week and one of the major issues still unresolved is the mass transit bill where there is a continuing debate over light rail.

Light rail was out of the bill when it passed the state Senate. The Indiana House voted to restore it. Now there’s an attempt to find some middle ground.

The focus of the mass transit debate this year has been the desire by community leaders to create a better bus system in Central Indiana.  But there are still dreams of a light rail line from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis to go along with bus improvements.

Transit supporters aren’t giving up on it. Carmel Republican Jerry Torr is their point man.

“We’re talking about a compromise of maybe having a ban on rail,” says Rep. Torr, “with a sunset of five years so that it wouldn’t be forever.”

The problem is finding support in the Senate where minority Democrats are on board with light rail.

“If there’s a demand and if there’s a way to pay for it and people are willing to use it,” said Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis,) “then let’s talk about it.”

But light rail is still a non-starter with too many Republicans. Senator Pat Miller (R-Indianapolis) is negotiating with Representative Torr.

“He and I have talked about several options,” said Sen. Miller, “but I think light rail is going to be out of the question.”

When asked why she said, “There’s just not enough support for it.”

Yet both Senator Miller and Representative Torr say they expect to make a deal.

For some supporters, it’s frustrating to leave this discussion in the hands of legislators.

“Let’s face it, none of the legislators are experts in transit policy,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said. “We need to hire the best consultants we can, tell us the best way–the most cost-effective way–to do it and then trust those decisions or get new consultants.”

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