INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The begrudging signature President Trump affixed to the FY 2018 federal budget passed by Congress late Thursday night clears the way for appropriations to fund IndyGo construction and service improvements along its controversial and delayed Red Line and Purple Line routes.
Trump first threatened to veto the $1.3 billion omnibus bill he termed, “ridiculous.”
Earlier this week IndyGo CEO Mike Terry told colleagues at the American Transportation Association conference in Washington, D.C., that elimination of various federal grants in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget would cripple the Indianapolis transit system’s expansion and improvement plans.
“Without the catalyst of the Capital Improvement Grant federal funding in partnership with our local dedicated fund, these life changing projects will be more difficult to implement,” said Terry. “Cuts to the Capital Improvement Grant program mean projects are delayed and local funds cannot be leveraged to make the impact necessary for cities.”
In 2016, during the referendum to create an annual $54 million Marion County transit income tax, IndyGo maintained it could still build its 13-mile long Red Line dedicated bus lane route from Broad Ripple through downtown to the University of Indianapolis even if its $75 million federal grant was not approved.
The FY 2017 federal budget promised $50 million of the anticipated grant with a promise to allocate the additional $25 million, but both pledges remain unfulfilled.
“As of yet we still don’t have the executed grant,” said IndyGo Spokesman Bryan Luellen.
While Red Line planning is underway, and income tax revenues have been collected, actual construction, which has been delayed several times, cannot begin without the federal money in hand.
“We expect the grant agreement to be executed soon,” said Luellen.
IndyGo anticipates the passage of the current budget will bode well for full funding and other projects.
“The spending bill contained strong support for other Federal Transit Administration funding programs, which IndyGo relies on for competitive funding opportunities as well as formula funds for various parts of the operation including bus replacement, security and paratransit,” said Luellen. “This funding bill authorizes the CIG program funds through September 2021, which is a good indication for the remaining $25 million for the Red Line as well as the Purple Line.”
The Purple Line is a series of route and service improvements, some already undertaken, transiting Indianapolis from east to west.
Its full implementation is still several years off.
“The Purple Line was rated as Medium-High overall,” said Luellen of the FTA’s rating of the proposal, “which positions the project well among other eligible projects in line for CIG Small Starts funds.”
An FTA review found the Purple Line justification as Medium but its local funding commitment as High because slightly less than half of the $140 million budget will be provided by the federal government.
The same review rated the Red Line Rapid Transit project’s current financial condition as Medium with commitment of funds as High, indicating the FTA expects Congress will eventually provide all of the $75 million promised.
The overall reasonableness of the financial plan for the $96 million Red Line project is listed as Medium-Low.
Despite the President’s threats to cut spending in 2019 for transit projects nationwide to fund his proposed infrastructure improvements, Luellen said the current spending plan is indicative of Congress’ support for those local system improvements.
“The CIG program is reauthorized at $2.6 billion which includes $401 million for Small Starts,” said Luellen, referring to the grants program that has been tapped to fund the Red Line project. “The total $2.6 billion authorization is $200 million more than the FY17 budget contained.”
Delays in groundbreaking are expected to result in additional construction and bond costs.
“This is costing money locally as we delay some of these projects or having to go out and rebid,” said Terry. “They’re coming in under budget right now, but further delays will just cause more challenges on the local side.”