Zionsville Times Sentinel

January 29, 2014

Lebanon, Zionsville officials back transit bills

By Rod Rose For the Times Sentinel
Zionsville Times Sentinel

---- — Zionsville Town Council President Jeff Papa and Lebanon Mayor Huck Lewis have joined officials from 16 other central Indiana communities to encourage the Indiana General Assembly to develop “a robust mass transit system.”Lewis and Papa are members of the 18-member Regional Council of Elected Officials, from cities and towns in the Indianapolis metro region.

The RCEO said in a media release that it was “encouraged” after the bi-partisan House-Senate Transit Study Committee voted 12-1 to expand mass transit. Bills have been filed in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Sens. Pat Miller and Brent Waltz have filed SB 176; Rep. Jerry Torr has filed HB 1034.

The Miller-Waltz plan calls for shifting some transit costs from income tax to businesses and transit users. It also allows county councils in Delaware, Hamilton, Johnson, Madison and Marion counties to hold voter referendums on whether to establish a transit system.

It’s that aspect of local control that Lewis favors.“In the near future, I don’t know what the impact would be,” Lewis said. “This isn’t necessarily about mass transit or not mass transit. It’s about letting local government decide if they want it, or they don’t want it.”“I think, as we grow, it’s going to be important that we look at mass transit,” Lewis said. “Are we there today? I don’t know. It would just depend on where it goes and how it would operate, and the total cost for us to do that.”Any mass transit system with a terminus in Lebanon would be bus-based, Lewis said.

Papa said he couldn’t comment directly on the legislation, because he is chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

The town contributes to Boone County Senior Services, Inc., to help with the agency’s Boone Area Transit System.“I think the need for seniors to be transported to pharmacies and other essential services, that’s why the town contributes,” Papa said.

Zionsville is not big enough to support a bus-based transit system, Papa said.

An alliance that includes the AARP, the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Metropolitan Indiana Board of Realtors, and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority sponsored a “transit day” at the Statehouse Thursday, Jan. 23.CIRTA’s Indy Connect Transportation Initiative, announced in November 2010, is a long-range plan to create a regional transit system based on buses with connections to a light rail network.

The plan, however, included only a bus link to Zionsville; the rest of Boone County was excluded.

Using Indiana income tax returns from 2010, the STATS Indiana service provided by the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business estimated 39,223 of Boone County’s residents worked. Of those, 24,294 had jobs in the county. Of the nearly 15,000 commuters, more than 10,000 — fully 25 percent of the county’s total labor force — worked in Marion County; 2,039 worked in Hamilton County.

Just over 6,600 people commuted into Boone County, with 3,098 coming from Hamilton and Marion counties combined.

The STATS Indiana study also found 99 people commuting to Boone County from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.

That data was not broken down by community, however, making it difficult to assess whether Boone’s communities had the ridership bases necessary for a viable mass transit system.

Steve Mundy, Zionsville town council vice president, did not believe enough information was available to determine whether mass transit was an economically viable need for the community.“I don’t know that we really know how beneficial it would be to the residents of Zionsville,” Mundy said.“Most of our population does go south and east,” he said, into Marion and Hamilton counties, “but how many are, and how frequently they would use (mass transit) in my mind would be a big question mark we would need to try to determine.”The groups backing Transit Day at the Statehouse said in a press release that, “Our lawmakers have gathered enough data and information to make a decision” on allowing the public to vote on transit issues. “Mass transit in central Indiana has been studied thoroughly, by both the private and public sectors and in a variety of settings and approaches.”A common element of the Miller-Waltz and Torr bills gives each county the potential of having a mass transit system that will pay economic, environmental and health benefits, the group said.“Our neighborhoods will discover new vitality, small businesses will thrive and young people — the greatest resource for the future — will find the city to be more attractive and exciting. This will all feed larger-scale growth and prosperity, and Central Indiana will continue to blossom,” the group said.