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IndyGo Blue Line bus project resumes after cost cutting

Blue Line designs are 90% done

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — IndyGo is resuming work on the Blue Line rapid-transit bus project one year after it had to pump the brakes because costs for the original design swelled.

The line would be the last of three planned rapid-transit routes crossing Indianapolis and Marion County. The Red Line is already operating, and the Purple Line is under construction.

The projected $220 million, pre-COVID figure rose to over $500 million post-COVID due to rising labor and materials costs. Engineers with IndyGo have looked at the designs for savings to bring the cost down to the range of $370 million to $390 million.

The Blue Line route was designed to go 24 miles from the town of Cumberland, which straddles the border of Marion and Hancock counties, to the Indianapolis International Airport.

Part of the Blue Line has now been diverted to go onto I-70 to get to the airport, and the airport has agreed to pick up the cost of that bus station to help reduce costs.

Additionally, IndyGo says, it’s working with its partners at the Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW) and the utility Citizens Energy Group to reduce costs on drainage projects along the bus line.

Also, the buses will now be hybrid instead of electric.

Carrie Black, an IndyGo spokesperson, told News 8, “So, originally it was going to be an all-electric battery bus. We have changed that to a hybrid diesel bus. So, that’s saving us money so that we, A., don’t need as many busses and, B., don’t have to invest the significant costs that we would have to incur for charging infrastructure.”

This project will be federally and locally funded, according to Black.

“We are looking to apply for a Small Starts grant through the FTA, the Federal Transit Administration, in the amount of $150 million, and then the rest of those costs will be made up of local funding from IndyGo, from our partners with DPW, Citizens Energy Group, and then looking into tapping into more federal funds through our partner at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization.”

IndyGo said the project was designed to create dedicated bus lanes and use transit signal priority to speed up service. “When the bus is coming to an intersection with a red light it triggers the light basically to turn green a little bit faster,” Black said.

The look of the Blue Line route will change due to the cost cutting: Bus stops will now be platforms with the same design seen on the Red Line, which runs from 66th Street and through downtown south to the University of Indianapolis.

Black said, “More than 50% of the total (Blue Line) project costs is going to infrastructure upgrades, and that’s really exciting to us because that means things like 7 miles of street resurfacing or paving; about 9 miles of new or upgraded sidewalks, in many cases where sidewalks don’t currently exist; more than 300 new or replaced ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) curb ramps, new crosswalk streetlights.”

IndyGo said the Blue Line design will be 90% complete by the end of 2023, and completed by spring. IndyGo plans to start construction of the Blue Line in 2025 and launch it for use in 2027.

Eddie Hager is a concerned southeast Indianapolis resident. He said the bus cannot get close enough to the platform for people with mobility issues. He showed News 8 places on the Red Line that he wants to be improved before the city spends up to $390 million on another rapid-transit bus project.

One side of the Troy Avenue southbound station ends in the dirt with no ramp, and the Raymond Street northbound stop has a difficult-to-manage sidewalk.

“The most critical is the design and the implementation of handicap accessibility to the stations,” Hager said.

IndyGo’s Purple Line, which will run from its downtown transit center to 38th and Meridian streets, and then east and north toward the city of Lawrence, is under construction.