Federal grant boosts mass transit hopes

(WISH Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A plan to connect three counties using IndyGo buses is getting support from the mayors of Carmel, Westfield, Indianapolis, and Greenwood.

The proposed plan would connect those communities with a 28-mile bus line. It would be a bus rapid transit line — that’s like light rail only on wheels.

The project won a federal planning grant because it would be the first bus rapid transit route in the country to use electric buses.

The bus rapid transit concept is part of the sales pitch that convinced state lawmakers to give the go ahead for a mass transit referendum.

The new federal grant will pay for engineering and environmental work along the route.

“(They are) critical steps to get the federal funds to help us build this,” said transit planner Ehren Bingaman, “so, this is a major movement forward. Very competitive grant award.”

Tuesday, area mayors appeared together at the Artsgarden to show support for the plan that remains futuristic. Planners can’t identify a timeline even for construction to begin.

“Funding is the clincher there,” said Anna Gremling of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization. “We don’t know. Funding for construction is not identified at this time.”

That funding could come from a tax hike generated by a referendum but there is also hope that more federal grants might eliminate the need for a tax hike.

“We’ll have to see how all that plays out,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. “You always want to do everything without using tax money if you can.”

But federal grants always require some local funding and even the $2 million planning grant called for a million dollar match by local governments. Indianapolis paid more than two-thirds of it.

In the meantime, the earliest that a referendum could take place is 2016. In a best case scenario construction on the new line could begin that year. It would take another 2 to 3 years to build the line.

In all likelihood, it will be 2020 and beyond before buses start running.

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