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A major mass transit project plan was presented to a group of Zionsville citizens for their feedback on Thursday, Feb. 25, at the Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library.

A surprise visitor, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, even paid a visit.

Indy Connect, a Central Indiana transportation initiative, unveiled the plan on Feb. 10, after a yearlong study by a private-sector group, the Central Indiana Transit Task Force. The force recommended several ambitious proposals, involving light and commuter rail, toll express highway lanes, expansion of the IndyGo bus program and additional bike and pedestrian pathways.

The stop in Zionsville Thursday night was the eighth of nearly 30 public input sessions that Indy Connect will have around the region. Indy Connect is made of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority and IndyGo.

Indianapolis MPO Executive Director Lori Miser made some opening remarks and showed a short video which gave a synopsis of the proposed 25-year plan, which she stressed was a draft and was subject to change after the public gives its feedback through February and March.

The ideas envisioned in the plan is adding tolled express lanes (in addition to the traffic lanes already in place) along segments of Interstate 69, northeast of Interstate 465, and along Interstate 65, southeast of Indianapolis.

The fees gained from the tolls could help pay for other transportation infrastructure projects.

After the public input sessions conclude at the end of March, the plan would be altered through the summer months based on the public’s suggestions. There would be another round of public meetings in October and November on the revised plan, with approval of it in December.

After showing a video, Miser let those in attendance go to various stations to get look at the maps and get more information on certain elements of the project. Not long after, Ballard made his appearance, which he said was his fourth so far out of the eight held by that point.

“When I first became the mayor, I kept getting asked about mass transit,” Ballard said. “At that time, I went to Mark Miles (CEO of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and later member of the task force) and said ‘I don’t think we’re going to get there in my lifetime unless we do something.’ We weren’t going to have the discussion on the level we needed to have unless I inserted my office into it. Some people were upset, but it’s critical that we have this discussion.”

Estimates on the total project’s cost are as high as $6.7 billion. One of the ways discussed to pay for the project would be an increase to the sales tax.

That price tag could turn people against something many advocate as long needed for the region. While Indianapolis is the 14th largest city in the United States, it is ranked 100th in public transit.

Chris Bucher, a Zionsville resident, was interested in the plan but was not satisfied with the answers he received about the cost of some elements of the project.

“I’m really concerned with the cost,” he said. “I asked several people, and I got very thin answers on costs, especially, of the light rail. So I feel like, this was a good first step, but if they are trying to get this plan done by December — either we’re glossing over something that’s pretty important, or they have a lot more work to do.”

Bucher didn’t think the plan meant big changes for the town.

“For Zionsville specifically, I don’t know that this makes a huge difference,” he said. “But for the metropolitan area, it’s very interesting. For me, I ride my bike, and I’d like to get better routes out of Zionsville to downtown, to Carmel, wherever.”

Bret Hine, a Lebanon resident who commutes to a job on the west side of Indianapolis, thought the input session was helpful.

“It’s great, informative stuff,” he said. “I think public rail like this is a good thing. I like the idea of a bus connecting into a light rail. It’d be a good thing, but I don’t know how they’d afford it. To me, they need to look at other cities that have done it (light rail) recently, in the last 20 years, and see how they did it.”

Hines works for Cummins, repairing a lot of transit buses for IndyGo and Bloomington Transit. He had trouble envisioning a smooth way to go to work from Lebanon to Indianapolis if the system was in place today.

“My job is at on the west side, Holt Road, closer to the airport,” he said. “I don’t know how that would work. If I was to ride it to my job now, I would have to take a bus to a rail, then a rail to downtown, then another bus to my job.”

Sue Ritz, the Boone County representative on the board for CIRTA, wanted to see a change to the current plan.

“One of the things it does not do is go farther north than Zionsville and (Ind.) 334 on that express (bus) route,” she said. “It needs to go up to Anson and Lebanon Business Park so that we can have the people who are commuting from Indianapolis go up to a job as well as taking people from Boone County down to Indianapolis for their jobs. It just makes sense to me.”

“We definitely need to get public input, so I hope that people will really show up at the next one in Lebanon,” she said.

Visit indyconnect.org for more information.



The next local meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 18, in the Lebanon Public Library, 104 E. Washington St. Visit indyconnect.org for more information.

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