Open Letter to Indiana Lawmakers: Get on the Bus!

Area mayors are urging lawmakers (too nicely) to act on mass transit this year. It’s time for tougher talk—here’s our take on a draft.

Dear Members of the 118th Indiana General Assembly,

Greetings from Charlotte, North Carolina! Wish you were here to see this city’s flourishing mass-transit system, which puts ours to shame. Charlotte’s is so successful, the city is expanding the light-rail line another 11 miles. Some of you have accompanied us here on past scouting trips, and yet the Indy Connect bill was still killed in committee last year! Now Ballard keeps telling the same joke: “What moves slower than Hoosier legislators on a transit issue? Their constituents on I-69!”

We came back to Charlotte for reassurance that a city resembling Indy’s size, demographics, and economy can embrace modern mass transit. (We could have gone to Minneapolis, Denver, or Salt Lake City, too, but Charlotte has attracted $1.5 billion in investment—condos, businesses—along its light-rail line, and that’s hard to ignore.) Riding the train here gives us hope for Indy Connect, our 10-year plan to bring the bus system in Indianapolis into the 21st century by doubling its size, creating express routes on a new style of bus, and building light rail between Noblesville and downtown.

But it also makes us pissed off anxious. Cities like Charlotte are attracting all the investment dollars and young professionals.

When we get back to Indianapolis, we’re going to rename the plan Indy Connect Now so you’ll know that this time, we mean it. But don’t be fooled by our polite tone. This is serious business. Indianapolis is the 12th-largest city in the country, but IndyGo ranks 89th among bus systems! Here’s another sobering statistic: In the last decade, thousands of people have left Indy’s older urban communities, taking $2.5 billion in income with them. Mayor Hudnut once said you can’t be a suburb of nowhere; he was referring to the importance of revitalizing downtown back then, but the philosophy applies to our entire urban core now.

Indy Connect Now costs $1.3 billion. That sounds like a lot, but the feds are going to split it. Pass House Bill 1011, authored by Hamilton County Rep. Jerry Torr, so we can ask voters for their permission to fund part of the rest with a teeny .3% tax hike in Marion and Hamilton counties. It’s less than Hoosiers kicked in to build Lucas Oil Stadium—a decision no one regrets.



Greg Ballard, mayor of Indianapolis
Jim Brainard, mayor of Carmel
Andy Cook, mayor of Westfield
And nearly every other municipal leader in Central Indiana

PS. The best time to ponder this issue? When you’re driving to work in snow and ice. Happy skidding!

This article appeared in the January 2013 issue.