"INDIANAPOLIS — Mass transit options such as commuter rail and buses are becoming more popular, a new state study found, but Indiana would need to spend $16 billion over 30 years to get closer to ridership goals."
Committee chairwoman Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said the $16 billion price tag from 2010 to 2040 includes dozens of improvements around the state: new commuter rail lines to downtown Indianapolis, for example, plus increases in bus ridership and rural transportation services. She said the state should chip away at the best projects.
“You figure out where your greatest need and your greatest leverage will be, and that’s where you sink your investment,” she said.
Indiana could be getting $5 billion from a federal stimulus package making its way through Congress, with about $100 million of that set aside for mass transit, according to the office of Gov. Mitch Daniels. The U.S. Senate is working on its own version of an economic recovery plan, so the numbers aren’t final.
The South Shore commuter line that runs between South Bend and downtown Chicago is the state’s only major mass transit system between cities.
While $100 million may not be enough to build an entirely new commuter rail system, Austin said the money can help spur mass transit through transportation studies or other projects that lay the groundwork for future developments.
“Don’t just think cars, buses, trucks and trains,” Austin said. “There’s a whole lot of preliminary work to go on, and I do think it’s viable for that.”
The study discussed Monday did not make specific recommendations on what projects the state should tackle first, said Brian Piascik, a representative of URS, the company that conducted the study. The report found that ridership increased in the state’s 61 public transit systems from about 30.2 million in 2000 to about 36.1 million in 2007.
The study also included a public opinion poll that found most Hoosiers think the government should spent more money on mass transit, but do not support taxes to do so. The survey also found that most adults in Indiana have no experience using public transportation.