By Thomas P. Healy
The future of transit in Midtown and the entire metro area looks promising as one project commences and another one enters the design phase.
On September 12, 2014 Congressman André Carson (IN-07) announced that IndyGo was awarded a $2 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Funds will be used for planning and engineering work along the Red Line which is slated to connect Carmel to Greenwood through Midtown and Downtown.
Less than two weeks later, on September 25, a groundbreaking ceremony occurred on the site of the $19.5 million Downtown Transit Center (DTC) at the southeast corner of Washington and Delaware.
Both are building on the momentum to improve Indy’s transit system which has seen steady growth in recent years. Last year, IndyGo generated 10.2 million fixed route trips, the highest ridership numbers in more than two decades.
“We’re extremely excited for the construction of the transit center to begin,” says Mike Terry, president and CEO of IndyGo. “Once in operation, it will greatly enhance the passenger experience offering real-time arrival information, safe and convenient transfers and an indoor waiting area.”
The project was made possible by $13.5 million dollars in Federal grants. IndyGo was able to add $6 million from its capital budget. Grand opening is set for spring, 2016.
While the DTC is a more short-term shovel-ready project, the TIGER grant will aid IndyGo and its Indy Connect partners at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA) to prepare the nation’s first Electric Bus Rapid Transit (EBRT) line. More than 800 applications from around the country competed for the $600 million in available funding
“I am pleased and excited that the city of Indianapolis has been selected to receive this critical and highly competitive funding,” said Representative Carson. “The fact that this project was selected above hundreds of submissions from around the country demonstrates the pivotal role that Indianapolis plays in the region.”
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard was thrilled by the announcement. “Indianapolis is on the radar across the country,” he said at the September 17, 2014 press conference. After his formal remarks he added, “There’s no announcement today unless there’s the E in front of BRT. The fact is, they weren’t going to give us a planning grant for regular BRT. People do that all day long across the country.”
Obtaining the grant was a bi-partisan effort. In addition to Congressman Carson’s support, both Senators Coats and Donnelly supported the grant as did the mayors of Westfield, Carmel and Greenwood. Mayor Ballard also did his part. “Everybody knows I’m into post-oil technology and when I was at the White House, Secretary Anthony Foxx (head of U.S. DOT) and Secretary Shaun Donovan (at that time head of Housing and Urban Development) took 12 of us mayors into a room and said ‘you are the mayors that are innovative, we like how you spend our money, give us a big idea.’”
“We came back, talked about it and the EBRT was born. Adam gets a lot of credit for this,” Ballard said, referring to Department of Metropolitan Development director Adam Thies.
The original plan exceeded $100 million which Mayor Ballard said he took to DC in hopes of getting the entire project funded. “We scaled back when we realized they weren’t going to fund that so this became a planning grant which is a good way to phase it in,” he said.
The TIGER grant will be augmented by a total of $1 million in local contributions. The lion’s share comes from Indianapolis with Carmel, Westfield and Greenwood pitching in too. Funds will allow the Indy Connect partners to identify the route of the Red Line, specify locations of stations and conduct an environmental impact study looking at noise issues and possible effects on historic properties.
After an extensive public outreach process over the past five years, IndyConnect, the public/private regional transit consortium that will have primary responsibility for the grant, identified BRT as the ideal approach to addressing the metro area’s growing transit needs. BRT has been likened to light rail without tracks because it features buses with convenient, quick boarding through multiple doors on level platforms. These features require a design more like a station rather than a bus stop. The addition of an electric component places an even greater emphasis on location.
“There are different types of electric technologies out there. That’s part of what we’ll look at,” said IndyGo’s Terry. He added that there are several successful systems being used in Europe so the technology is sound. “We know we don’t want overhead catenary lines but there are kinds with power in the street, or you can have overhead canopies at stops that give a quick burst charge, or you can have batteries that run the entirety of the run – we’ll look at what’s the best.”
The TIGER grant application estimates that the annual savings of an EBRT Red Line versus a conventional diesel bus line is a reduction of 5,269 tons of carbon. IndyGo could save $1.79 million annually by purchasing electricity instead of diesel fuel.
Plans for the Red Line EBRT system propose buses running at 10 minute intervals during peak times and at 15 minute intervals during off-peak periods on weekdays. Weekends would see intervals of 20 minutes during the day and 30 minutes in the evenings.
This bodes well for Midtown which already has high ridership for existing IndyGo routes along with several key pieces of infrastructure. “The Meridian Street corridor from downtown up to 38th Street right now is where our heaviest ridership is along with the College Corridor; that’s where this Red Line will be,” Terry said adding that a Park and Ride station at the Broad Ripple Parking Garage for southbound travelers could be complemented by a station at the proposed Shell site development for northbound riders.
Tarkington Park area has also been considered a site for upgraded transit amenities. All of this will be studied Terry said with an eye toward increasing convenience, frequency and reliability. “Any time you improve the frequency and extend the hours of service you’re going to have increased ridership.”
IndyGo is prepared to begin the consultant selection process for preliminary engineering and environmental services and hopes to begin the study yet this year.