The Associated Press August 29, 2011, 2:25PM ET

Planners eye downtown Indianapolis streetcar route

A group of business and community leaders are working on plans for the first streetcar line in Indianapolis since the 1950s, with the aim of connecting several downtown attractions.

The nearly two-mile route between sites near the downtown Circle Centre mall and the Indianapolis Zoo might cost $20 million to $25 million to build and equip.

Leaders of the Downtown Indianapolis Streetcar Corp. told the Indianapolis Business Journal (http://bit.ly/n7cOms ) that the line would link attractions such as the convention center, the Indiana State Museum and the zoo that are a long walk apart.

Mayor Greg Ballard said he's been briefed on the plan and "generally speaking, I like it. But I have to look at the details," such as whether it ultimately would require city funding.

The streetcar group's consultants estimated the starter system could draw more than 600,000 riders a year-a significant potential source of revenue if fares were assessed.

"Do we want to charge people?" said Steve DeVoe, the group's president. "That's going to be a major decision."

The group's proposed route would connect White River State Park and its biggest tenant, the Indianapolis Zoo, to the downtown. It would share a pedestrian bridge that crosses the White River near the NCAA Hall of Champions on the western edge of the city's downtown.

Private and corporate donations likely would be a big source of money for a project. The Federal Transit Administration in recent years has begun to make money available for streetcar projects, as well.

"But with 40-some cities lined up out there and our record for mass transit, I don't think FTA is going to be sympathetic to us," DeVoe said.

The streetcar group first needs to get the city onboard with the concept before it goes in search of money. Annual operating costs for an Indianapolis system might run from $300,000 to $1 million.

Ballard said he wouldn't be inclined to support the system if the city had to pick up part of that annual tab.

City transit records indicate the last streetcar-like vehicle to rumble through Indianapolis was a 40-passenger, rubber-tired vehicle that drew power from overhead electric lines and ran until 1957.

The new Indianapolis line would require not only track but a network of overhead electric wires. However, Savannah, Ga., avoided the cost of electric lines altogether by powering a 72-year-old streetcar with an engine that burns biodiesel to turn an electric generator.

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Information from: Indianapolis Business Journal, http://www.ibj.com


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