Next Stop: The Purple Line

A bus

a bus
When it opens in 2024, the Purple Line will stretch 15.2 miles along the 38th Street corridor, from downtown Indianapolis to Ivy Tech’s Lawrence campus. Like the Red Line, which opened in September 2019, the Purple Line will have electric buses, dedicated bus lanes, and in-median stations that pedestrians can access from both sides of the street.

LOTS OF GREEN Purple Line construction will cost $188 million, but more than 40 percent of that money comes from a Small Starts Capital Investment Grant. In August 2021, the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, better known as IndyGo, received about $81 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. Funding from the transit income tax, approved by Marion County voters in 2016; the city’s Department of Public Works; and other federal sources will cover the remaining cost.

BUS FARE IndyGo needs 30 new electric buses for the Purple Line, but they sorta kinda don’t have a place to put them. At all. So, it asked the city for $65 million in bonds to help fund “priority projects,” including the new buses; a new bus garage; a storage facility for IndyGo’s Open Door vehicles, which serve residents with disabilities; and other ventures.

a map of the redline and purple lineSEEING RED In December, the City-County Council approved IndyGo’s request for $65 million—but not everyone was in favor. Four councilors voted against the proposal, including Republican Councilor Josh Bain, who last October said he has “a difficult time” putting additional dollars toward anything that isn’t public safety or infrastructure related. Fellow Republican Councilor Michael-Paul Hart has also expressed concerns. He acknowledges there’s a fundamental need for IndyGo but doesn’t believe a $65 million bond is fair to taxpayers. “Where I want to make sure we are very clear,” he told IndyGo, “is that if you fail … that you have to come back to this council, and we have to take money away from other things.”

BLUE PILL In 2023, IndyGo plans to ask for another $65 million in bonds for the Blue Line, an east-west route that will run Washington Street from Cumberland to the airport.

WHOSE LINE IS IT, ANYWAY? “Public transportation is a highly subsidized public service and therefore shouldn’t turn a profit,” says IndyGo Director of Communications Carrie Black. “All forms of transportation are subsidized; some are more hidden than others.” Consider that fire and police departments are also subsidized—and who’s mad the fire department isn’t making bank? The Purple Line will provide transportation in an underserved area. There are 127,000 jobs and 37,000 housing units within a half-mile of the route, as well as 66,970 residents—25 percent of whom are classified as low-income.

DELIVERABLES More than two-thirds of the $188 million budget is earmarked for infrastructure improvements. We’re talking three miles of multiuse paths, 9.5 miles of new/upgraded sidewalks, 26.6 lane miles of new paving, 355 new/upgraded ADA curb ramps, and 51,700 linear feet of storm sewer separation.

TRANSIT BOOM Profitability and ridership aren’t the only things that factor into whether a transit line is “successful.” According to the American Public Transportation Association, every $1 invested in public transit generates $5—a 400 percent return on investment.

BOTTOM LINE Early evidence suggests investment in the Purple Line is worth it. Cook Medical, a Bloomington-based medical manufacturer, is already building a facility at the corner of 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue. Per a November 2020 press release, Cook Medical chose this location because of its high rates of poverty and unemployment. “We hope that this model can serve as an example and inspire other businesses and organizations to join us,” said Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Medical. “If owners and leaders of companies in Indiana join us in bringing jobs and opportunity back, we believe it’s possible to rebuild the middle class in our state.”