Red Line Rolling Toward Construction

Red Line Station at 30th and Meridian. Rendering courtesy IndyGo.

by Thomas P. Healy

After years of planning and more than a year of detailed engineering work, the 13.5-mile first phase of the Red Line Electric Bus Rapid Transit line is 100 percent designed and ready to bid.

Depending on weather, construction of the largest public transportation infrastructure project in the city’s history could begin in late November, according to Bryan Luellen, IndyGo’s vice president of public affairs and communications.

“There is an absolute start and end date but at this point in time we can’t say contractor A is going to start here and finish here. We’re not the ones assembling the work crews,” Luellen said. More detailed information on staging will be contained in contractor bids that are due in September. The IndyGo board will vote on contractor selections and issue a “Notice to Proceed” in November. In a June Contractor Information Session, IndyGo said it expects construction to be completed by December 2018 in order to leave ample time to test the system before beginning service in April 2019.

Not just a transit project

IndyGo is working closely with the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works as well as Citizens Energy Group to coordinate improvements. “This is not only a transit project but also a significant infrastructure project,” Luellen said. “Much of the project is going to improve street conditions and we’re making significant drainage improvements to much of the corridor.”

Sidewalks and crosswalks are critical to the success of any transit project, and Luellen said these elements are part of the plans, too. “Lighting will be a component in all the stations and traffic signals will be upgraded as well,” he added.

Luellen said the bid packages will contain requirements contractors must comply with regarding access and traffic. “We’re blacking out things they cannot do to assure access is maintained,” he maintained. For example, working on the station at 42nd Street and College Avenue around State Fair time is “off the table.” In addition, contractors will be expected to maintain open paths to businesses, install appropriate signage throughout construction and provide proactive communication and outreach.

He said that IndyGo has contracted with infrastructure solutions firm HNTB to serve as construction manager, handling contractor management and making sure that they comply with specifications. Jennifer Pyrz is a senior project manager at HNTB who will serve as a liaison between construction crews and neighbors, especially business owners.

Neighborhood improvement

“HNTB’s role is to make sure IndyGo is in the best possible place with a set of plans that can be constructed on schedule and on budget with as little risk to the community as possible,” she said. Her stakeholder engagement role for the College Avenue corridor from 38th Street to 66th Street is a key component to the project’s outreach effort. “I’m hoping that the businesses and residences along College get to know who I am and call me if there are issues, concerns, or questions,” she said.

“Construction is going to be tough, but we are putting measures in place to help ease some of the pressure,” she said, adding, “IndyGo is committed to make it as least disruptive as possible.”

Pyrz resides in Meridian-Kessler within the Red Line’s service area, a fact that she says gives her an advantage. “I’m reviewing plans with an understanding of what traffic is like.” Beyond that, she says she has empathy for residents and business owners along the College Avenue corridor who will have to deal with the inevitable headaches that a construction project of this magnitude brings. “When I’m able to talk to folks and tell them I’m living in the neighborhood and going through this too, it changes the conversation,” she said. “I’m driving and walking and biking it too; my kids are going to school through the construction as well.”

John Andrews, a vice president at general contractor Shiel Sexton, will handle the stakeholder engagement role along 38th Street and down Meridian to the Downtown Transit Center. “Shiel Sexton is partnered with HNTB to be construction manager,” he said. “Functionally, we’ll be working as a team.”

“Our goal is to deliver a project that is going to improve neighborhoods,” he said. Construction projects like this are disruptive, Andrews acknowledges. “Predictability and reliability are going to be most important. People are more forgiving when they know what happens and it happens as they predicted it would.”

He sees his role as “getting the message out. I’ll have regularly scheduled opportunities to have coffee and get project updates,” he said. Andrews lives along the Red Line’s southern leg near Garfield Park and is passionate about the Quality of Life initiative there. “It’s going to be a cultural shift for the city because we haven’t had mass transit on this scale for 60 years,” he said, and he’s committed to helping. “We’re going to work hard to minimize whatever issues come up. What people want most is effort and thoughtfulness. We want to try to be user-friendly when it comes to things we know are inconvenient. People tend to be understanding if they sense you genuinely want to help.”

Midtown businesses along the Red Line route have expressed concerns about the construction project. Carrie Henderson, president of Business Ownership Initiative, Inc. (BOI), an Indy Chamber affiliate, says her organization is a resource for such small businesses. “We want to help,” she said. “There are things you can do in your business to position yourself during times of transition.”

Henderson says BOI offers one-on-one coaching and micro loans to help reduce risk during a short-term downturn in revenue. “The Red Line is ultimately going to be a great thing for businesses in the corridor but the transition risk is scary and real. We’re here to help them.”

Collective-impact strategy

Transit Drives Indy (TDI) is another ally. A coalition of businesses, community service organizations, and individuals, TDI uses a collective-impact strategy to engage the community and create a new culture of public transit in Indianapolis. It was recently awarded one of three $50,000 creative place-making grants from Transportation4America, a Washington, DC–based transit advocacy group that received funding from the Kresge Foundation for the grants.

According to TDI spokeswoman Kelli Mirgeaux, a kickoff is planned for late August. “Transit Drives Indy aims to encourage, monitor, and facilitate the implementation of the Marion County Transit Plan,” she said. The grant will help TDI achieve its stated goals to “mitigate community and business disruption during Red Line construction, and to creatively inspire ridership on the Red Line once it is completed.”

TDI’s grant application stated: “As part of the initiative, [. . .] artists will map and understand the unique neighborhood cultures and needs of each Red Line station area through arts engagement activities; from there TDI will identify several communities and stations for project focus. Inspired by Saint Paul’s IRRIGATE program, the artists will also connect with businesses and neighborhoods to put the community first during Red Line construction activity.”

Additionally, the application stated: “[O]ur goal for the Red Line portion of the project will be to measure impact to businesses and neighborhoods during construction and, based on this information, mitigate disruption. We will work closely with local businesses to limit income loss by encouraging owners to express their concerns (qualitative) and provide weekly income data to discover trends (quantitative).”

IndyGo and its allies are committed to a transportation construction project that links neighbors, connects communities, and drives prosperity for the region.