For the better part of the past year, the MPO has spearheaded an alternatives analysis of the Indy Connect Blue Line, a proposed rapid transit corridor spanning Indianapolis from the east side to the west side through downtown.
Urban Indy has reported periodically on the Blue Line when public comment periods have been announced. (see prior reports here & here). This week, the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Council (IRTC) Policy Committee voted to accept the final recommendations on the Blue Line.
When the process started, the goal was to refine alternatives for 3 major criteria:
The composition of these criteria include a number of factors such as whether the recommended alternative would be Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Rail. Dedicated lanes or mixed traffic. Frequency & duration of service. Ticketing mechanisms. Station designs, etc. So without further ado, onto the Recommended Alternatives!
Route & Stations
The map pretty much tells the story. Initially, the Blue Line would operate on Washington Street from Meijer on the far east side, to Tibbs Ave on the west side. Stations would be located at intersections with major north/south arteries providing critical places for riders to transfer. The street itself would not face any major changes. The recommended alternative promotes mixed traffic use for the entire route, stations located on sidewalks and que jump lanes at strategic locations along the route which can accept them.
Mode & Operations
The mode (or vehicle) of choice for the Blue Line is BRT. Light Rail was likely ruled out early in the process not for it’s design merits but more for the funding forecast available for transit in central Indiana. BRT vehicles would be branded differently than the current IndyGo fleet and would likely be articulated 60 foot buses of some sort similar to those now running on the current route 8 and 39. Current riders will appreciate the recommended service span and frequency as well. Weekday service would run from 5am to midnight with varying frequency depending on the time of the day. Early morning and late evening service would be 30 minute frequency but through the day would be 15 minutes (same as existing route 8). Afternoon rush hour would operate on 10 minute frequency.
As we have reported in the past, stations would be the only locations where riders would board and de-board the new service. Tickets for riding would be purchased at vending machines located at each stations as well as accepting other forms of payment like today’s service. The stations themselves would resemble a much nicer version of today’s covered shelters with digital boards indicating the amount of time until the next bus would arrive. Additionally, the buses would pull up to elevated boarding areas where people in wheel chairs could easily roll onto or off of the bus.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts
So what’s next? Funding is needed to bring this project to fruition. Those of you keeping score in Indianapolis know that the region is lobbying the state legislature for the authority to raise local taxes to do this. Estimated costs for constructing the recommended 13.5 mile alternative, come in at $87.4M ($6.5M per mile approx). Annual operating costs are estimated at $11.5M.
The final recommended alternative for rapid transit on Washington Street has come a long way from what was proposed in the initial Indy Connect report which would have brought light rail service in the median from the far east side, all the way to the airport. And what about the airport? Some of you may be asking what happened to service to the terminal. Planners considered service all the way to the terminal and indeed, there are a number of jobs located there that support service. However, for the initial phase, rapid service was not recommended all the way the airport. The report does include some recommendations about reducing, but retaining, the current IndyGo route 8 with lower frequency for the east side, and increased service for the west side that would fill this gap in service. Additionally, the free market is already supporting an express service from the airport to downtown which would be impossible for Blue Line service to compete with based on trip duration. However, a later phase of the Blue Line could extend service all the way to the terminal.
The executive summary and full report can be viewed at the Indy Connect site.