Poll shows support for transit expansion in northern suburbs

April 18, 2013 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

A new poll shows 76 percent of voters in two Indianapolis-area Indiana Senate districts support paying higher taxes if it means creating a regional transit system.

Amber Collins makes a new sign during a rally in support for mass transit at the Statehouse, Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Kelly Wilkinson / The Star

IndyCAN, a nonpartisan, faith-based organization that supports transit expansion, conducted the poll Saturday and Sunday among 454 registered voters in Senate Districts 29 and 30.

The margin of error was plus or minus 4.59 percentage points.

District 29 Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, and District 30 Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, both opposed a bill this year that would have moved toward expanding transit. They helped lead a successful effort in the Senate to study the issue over the summer rather than do something more immediate.

“The poll proves what we knew all along,” the Rev. Carey Grady, pastor of Bethel AME Church, said in a prepared statement, “Voters understand we are all in this together, a regional mass-transit system is key to building a region of opportunity, where all benefit from God’s abundance.”

Delph said he conducted his own unscientific poll in his district, and more than half opposed paying for a transit expansion.

Delph said he’s worried about the long-term costs and viability of transit.

“We used to have a mass-transit system in Indianapolis,” Delph said, referring to the defunct interurban. “We had a rail system, and we loved it so much we paved over it.”

Schneider said senators need more time to examine the transit proposal.

“We’re not commissioning another study,” he said. “Over the years, there have been a number of studies about this. I think what everybody is looking for is an opportunity to gather all of the information from the varying groups and answer some of the questions that we have about the bill. We’re asking for time to review all of the studies and all of the detailed information that is out there.”

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, steered a transit expansion bill through the Indiana House this year before it stalled in the Senate. He will try to revive his proposal in a House-Senate conference committee that will meet over the next two weeks, but the odds seem long.

Torr’s bill would have allowed residents to decide through a referendum in 2014 whether to raise their income taxes by 0.3 percent to pay for most of the local portion of a 10-year, $1.3 billion transit expansion. That tax would amount to roughly $10 to $15 per month for the average worker and would pay for most of the roughly $700 million local share.

Under Torr’s version of the bill, Hamilton and Marion counties plan to hold referendums in 2014. Eight other metro-area counties could opt in over time.

Transit advocates in Hamilton and Marion counties have proposed doubling the size of IndyGo and adding a rail line or a Bus Rapid Transit line along a 22-mile rail line from Noblesville to Downtown Indianapolis. They also want Bus Rapid Transit routes along Washington Street to Indianapolis International Airport; Meridian Street to Greenwood and Carmel; and along Keystone Avenue and 38th Street.

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