First phase of mass transit work could begin next year

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Carmel Chamber members got a glimpse this week of what transportation in the Indianapolis area could look like in the near future.

Ron Gifford, the executive director of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, spoke at the Carmel Chamber’s monthly luncheon on Wednesday and provided an update on mass transit plans for the area. Gifford said work could begin as soon as 2013 on the $1.3 billion project that would create a system consisting of buses and rail servicing Hamilton and Marion counties. The task force in December announced its local funding plan for mass transit for the two counties after nearly three years of research. The next step, he said, is to get a referendum on November’s ballot that would allow voters to decide if the $1.3 billion project is worth funding.

The majority of the funding would come from a new county economic development income tax of 0.3 percent. Gifford said that, while $1.3 billion is a substantial sum, more money has been or will be spent on three road projects – “Accelerate 465,” upcoming Major Moves work on U.S. 31 in Hamilton County and lane expansions at I-465 and I-69.

Of the $1.3 billion, Gifford said $124 million would be spent on doubling bus services in Marion County and extending service into Hamilton County, $543 million would be spent on a bus rapid transit system and $625 million would go towards a rail line running from Noblesville to Indianapolis with frequent stops along the way.

The BRT system, Gifford said, would provide an estimated travel time of 31 minutes from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis, regardless of traffic or time of day.

“BRT is a relatively new concept in the United States,” he said. “It’s basically light rail on wheels.”

The buses would use designated lanes and have the ability to avoid stopping at intersections by changing traffic signals the way fire engines do now. Stations would be built about every half mile, he said, and history and modern examples suggest that economic development would occur around these stations.

Gifford suggested that those who like these plans – on which more details are available at www.masstransitplan.com – should tell their elected officials.

“This issue ultimately should go to the voters so they can decide if they want to make this investment in our community,” he said.

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