Bill would 'cancel' IndyGo's Blue Line by banning dedicated bus lanes outside Mile Square

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A bill introduced in the Indiana General Assembly seeks to prevent IndyGo from establishing new dedicated bus lanes outside Mile Square in downtown Indianapolis, which would derail the public transit agency's planned Blue Line.

The city's third planned bus rapid transit line calls for dedicated bus lanes along the majority of Washington Street from Cumberland to the Indianapolis International Airport and relies on federal funding stipulating dedicated transit lanes.

Senate Bill 369, authored by Republican Senators Jack Sandlin and Mike Young, would not affect the Red Line or incoming Purple Line.

Instead, it addresses the city's main east-west artery, Washington Street, also known as US 40.

"I think we need to take a look at protecting the route," Sandlin said, citing concern over how taking away general-purpose lanes would impact traffic and businesses along the route. "We can still have a vibrant bus system without decimating Washington Street."

IndyGo, however, says this bill would cut Blue Line plans short.

“We are disappointed to see lawmakers propose legislation that would cancel the planned Blue Line, which is set to improve infrastructure conditions along Washington Street from Cumberland to the Indianapolis International Airport," IndyGo said in a statement. "This move would effectively cripple an entire system designed to provide improved, faster and more reliable transit for Marion County."

In the current design for the 24-mile-long Blue Line, 70% of the corridor includes dedicated bus lanes in the left lanes of each side of the street, with the outer right lanes reserved for general purpose traffic. This would cut down Washington Street from four traffic lanes to two in most places. General traffic can, however, use the bus lanes to make turns.

IndyGo is expecting to complete 60% of the design by March 2022, start construction mid-to-late 2024 and open for business in 2027. The total project cost is estimated at $220 million.

Purple Line: For many who live along 38th Street, excitement isn't about buses at all

But if the legislation passes, IndyGo said it would lose $100 million in federal funding be unable to move forward with the project as it stands, which includes building more than 10 miles of new or upgraded sidewalks, 500 new or upgraded ADA curb ramps, nearly 20 miles of paving and 65 new or upgraded traffic signals.

The bill, Sandlin said, would not preclude IndyGo from pursuing shared bus lanes. He acknowledged the corridor has infrastructure needs, but said he doesn't believe the city should address those through a bus project that takes away traffic lanes.

"What price do you put on the community?" he said.

Alternatives add millions

Lawmakers had previously asked IndyGo to evaluate design alternatives for Segment 1 of the Blue Line, which runs along Washington Street from Holt Road to the airport.

In a public meeting Dec. 28, engineers shared their analyses of two alternatives: running one bi-directional bus lane down the center of the street or bus lanes on the curb side of the street. Each alternative would add $6 million-$12 million to project costs and result in more property acquisition, engineers said. The bi-directional alternative would preserve two traffic lanes in each direction, but likely lead to slower bus service as buses have to wait for others to pass in the opposite direction. The curbside alternative would allow easier left-turn access throughout the corridor.

They did not, however, explore any configurations that involved fully mixed-traffic. A requirement of the Federal Transit Administration funding supporting the project is that there is a transit-dedicated benefit.

A traffic analysis of the left-lane bus rapid transit plan using 2018-20 data showed the average vehicle delay at signalized intersections stayed within city standard, which is 55 seconds or less per vehicle.

In other words, engineer Will Tolbert said, "No one would be waiting on average more than 55 seconds at an intersection in the morning or evening, peak hour or rush hour."

This wouldn't be IndyGo's first go-around with legislation challenging their plans. Last year, a bill from Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, proposed a penalty if IndyGo didn't meet revenue requirements outlined in state law and a ban on future rapid transit lines if those requirements are not met. A similar skirmish happened in the 2020 session.

More: Inside negotiations between IndyGo and the legislators challenging bus rapid transit

Though Freeman didn't author this year's bill, the concern about how the Blue Line would impact traffic on Washington Street has been a major talking point of his in the past.

The bill will be read into session Tuesday afternoon and assigned to the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure.

Contact IndyStar transportation reporter Kayla Dwyer at kdwyer@indystar.com or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IndyGo bill: Ban on bus-only lanes would 'cancel' Blue Line

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