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Mass transit supporters rally today at Indiana Statehouse

November 7, 2013 | Indianapolis STAR | Link to Article

About 50 business leaders, community advocates and clergy members rallied today at the Statehouse to urge the Indiana General Assembly to move forward with plans to fund an expansion of mass transit in Central Indiana.

The Rev. Carey Grady of Bethel AME Church said the group plans to keep the pressure on lawmakers through the 2014 legislative session. Transit, he said, is a grave concern for members of the 17 different faiths represented at the event.

The issue, Grady said, goes beyond traditional arguments that mass transit reduces traffic congestion, boosts economic development and eases commutes. Grady said many hard-working Hoosiers simply don’t have access to open jobs.

Time and time again, Grady said, members of his congregation and others have to turn down work due to lack of transportation. He promised to shed light on their plight.

“We are the moral voice in this struggle,” Grady said. “We represent a wonderful range and demographic of people.”

The Indianapolis Congregation ActionNetwork, known as IndyCAN, a grassroots organization advocating for low- and moderate-income people in Marion County, is leading the effort. The group launched a strategy today to keep the pressure on as the mass-transit issue is debated in the 2014 legislative session.

■The group plans to talk personally with more than 2,000 bus riders over the next two months.

■The group will launch a voter-engagement campaign to convince 10,000 people to vote in favor of mass transit if the issue lands on a ballot.

■The group pledged to hold vigils every Tuesday during the session at the Statehouse.

Despite strong support for transit from community, religious andbusiness leaders, legislation has failed the past two years at the Statehouse. Critics have successfully argued that the entire community should not be forced to shoulder the cost of a system that would benefit only a few.

The measure came closer to passing than ever earlier this year, though, and now a joint House-Senate study committee is hammering out legislation to introduce in the 2014 legislative session.

Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, said IndyCAN’s support is welcome but the fate of the transit legislation ultimately will come down to dollars and cents. She’s working with fiscal leaders in the Indiana Senate and hopes to present a funding plan when the committee meets again at 9 a.m. Nov. 21.

“I think it’s going to boil down to a money issue.”

Transit advocates are pushing for a 10-year, $1.3 billion overhaul that would include doubling the size of IndyGo, building two Bus Rapid Transit routes and adding a BRT route or rail line from Noblesville and Fishers to Downtown Indianapolis along the Nickel Plate rail line. BRT — high-speed buses with limited stops — is increasingly being used in cities across the country as a lower-cost alternative to rail.

They want to allow residents to decide through a referendum whether to raise their income taxes by up to 0.3 percentage point to build and operate the entire transit system.

Call Star reporter Chris Sikich at (317) 444-6036. Follow him at Twitter.com/ChrisSikich.