Red Line Update

Conceptual rendering of Red Line station design by Sean Morrissey, an architect from Indiana now practicing in Seattle. Studies show that commercial and residential properties in proximity to such rapid transit stations realize a sales price premium. Image courtesy IndyGo.

By Thomas P. Healy

Advocates of smart growth acknowledge the importance of transportation options to expand economic opportunity to more citizens as part of a broad-based strategy to create mixed-use, walkable places that serve citizens of all ages and abilities.

Although the incoming federal administration has a stated goal of increasing investment in domestic infrastructure, including transportation, a national transit advocacy group says it’s too soon to speculate whether Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao will support transit.

“It remains to be seen,” says Stephen Lee Davis, director of communications for Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C., transit advocacy group that’s a program of Smart Growth America. Davis says Chao’s experience as a deputy transportation secretary under George H. W. Bush is important.

“She knows what’s within the agencies’ purview—what issues it provides regulation and guidance for,” he said, adding the caveat that funding for transit is prescribed by Congress. U. S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) oversees management of funds. “Public transit is a huge part of the sweep of what USDOT provides, so having that experience is helpful.”

Another unanswered question is the status of the Red Line funding that is currently included in both House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill Congress has yet to pass. On December 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term Continuing Resolution (H.R. 2028) that funds federal programs and services until April 28, 2017. The Senate is currently considering the measure and is likely to pass it to avoid a government shut-down. This means the appropriations bill will be taken up next year by the new Congress.

USDOT awarded $75 million from its Small Starts grant program in February 2016 to IndyGo to construct phase 1 of the Red Line. According to John Marron, IndyGo’s deputy project manager for the Red Line, the goal is to begin construction in the second quarter of 2017—but, he adds, “It depends on congressional action.”

Rather than spin in place, the Red Line team is gaining traction with construction plans.  A November 16 meeting at the Central Library provided updates to community stakeholders. The slideshow of the PPT presentation is available at IndyGo website. [PDF]

In a conversation after the meeting, Marron said, “At the July 2016 public meetings we had 30 percent plans—in other words, the first blueprint-level plans but not detailed enough to do construction.” Using community feedback, he said, the team crafted what are called 60 percent plans and these where shared at the November 16 meeting.

At upcoming public meetings in 2017, he said, there should be close to 90 percent plans. “You’ll see a lot more nuanced designs at that meeting,” he said. “We’ll also have a much better idea of how we’re phasing construction and a good sense of how we anticipate construction rolling out at the corridor level.”

In addition, Marron and the Red Line team are in the early stages of a fare study. “We’ll look at what is an appropriate fare given cost of living and inflation,” Marron said. “Is the fare system now what it needs to be?” The study will look not only at the costs for riders but also will examine how the service will incorporate transfers (IndyGo does not currently offer transfers). The study will also review available technology for fare collection. Collecting fares on the bus slows down the process, he said. “You won’t purchase your fare for Red Line on the bus,” he said. “You’ll use vending machines to purchase tickets off the bus. This helps speed up the bus to adhere to the 10-minute headway.” Marron said the fare study will be released for public comment in the spring. “We’ll get a thorough vetting from the public through a lot of outreach and meetings,” he said.

Also planned for the first quarter of 2017 is a business survey. “We want to help mitigate the impacts businesses might see as a result of construction,” he said. That means surveying businesses in advance of construction to learn hours of operations, times for deliveries, and vehicular and pedestrian access.

“There are going to be challenges and disruptions,” Marron said. “We’re trying to get out in front of it so we can help folks along the corridor.”

A version of this article appeared in the December ’16/January ’17 issue of the magazine.

UPDATE: This article previously referred to a planned Feb 2, 2017 public meeting. That meeting is being rescheduled.