Winning unanimous approval from Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night was a resolution that expresses support for the extension of Bloomington Transit (BT) bus service outside the city limits, to Daniels Way.
The turn off 3rd Street to Daniels Way is about three quarters of a mile west of the city limits. New bus service north on Daniels Way, to make a loop around Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, and other employers, would mean extending the route something like a mile and a half.
Wednesday’s resolution expresses intent for the council eventually to make the necessary approvals for service outside the city, but itself has no legal impact.
The resolution’s sole sponsor on the city council, Steve Volan, sees the resolution as “removing a source of doubt for the mayor and for all of our county colleagues” about the city council’s willingness to do “its part” to make public bus service outside the city limits possible.
Under state law, to do “its part,” the city council would have to approve any extension of public bus service outside of city limits.
BT is not a city department—it’s a separate corporate entity established under state law, with its own property tax levy. [IC 36-9-4-10] Still, the city council has to approve BT’s annual budget.
State law also sets as one condition on the expansion of service outside the city’s boundaries the following: “The legislative body of the municipality approves any expansion of the service outside the municipality’s corporate boundaries.”
As for the funding required to provide the additional service, Volan sees it as “up to the mayor and the county commissioners to hammer out.”
The resolution ties the city council’s support of a service expansion to “equitable interlocal agreements between the city and county.” The resolution does not mention BT as a signatory to an interlocal agreement, but presumably would have to be, in order to ensure that the service is provided.
The resolution includes one “resolved” clause:
The Bloomington Common Council hereby supports the extension of service by the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation to Daniels Way and expresses its intent to approve extensions of the geographic limits of Bloomington Transit services upon the completion of equitable interlocal agreements between the city and county that specify areas of, and appropriate funding mechanisms for, those extended services.
Wednesday’s resolution comes in the recent context of an overture made by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton to county government in connection with a planned convention center expansion. project. Hamilton’s proposal includes a transfer by the county of the current convention center real estate to the city, so that Bloomington can handle the expansion.
As part of the convention center deal, the city is proposing that the county government cover the incremental cost of providing public bus service outside the city limits. Wednesday’s resolution approved by the city council puts the same condition on providing service outside the city limits—that the county government pay the incremental cost.
How much that cost might be depends on the route map and the frequency of service. At an Aug. 26 city council work session, BT general manager John Connell gave an “off the cuff” estimate for extending the existing Route 3 to Daniels Way: $75,000 a year. To extend the planned new east-west cross-town express route outside the city limits would cost more.
The city of Bloomington’s planned annual contribution to BT of around $4 million of new local income tax is supposed to fund the new cross-town service, among other service enhancements.
Asked after their Wednesday morning meeting what they thought of the city council’s resolution, the three county commissioners sounded amenable to some kind of arrangement for the county to help pay for service. County commissioner Julie Thomas said, “Sure—let’s see it,” referring to a specific proposal for service and a dollar amount. Commissioner Lee Jones added, “It sounds positive.”
BT board president James McLary responded to an emailed question from The B Square by saying, “I have not seen the resolution, so I can not be too specific.” He continued, “Operating out of the city limits has been a priority of this board for a long time. So I think you will find board support for this action.”
McLary added, “I would like the resolution to be broader and not specific to Daniels Way, but it is a good first step.”
The idea of taking a comprehensive approach to service outside the city limits was one of the clear threads in Connell’s remarks made to the city council during its week of departmental budget hearings. On Aug. 30, Connell told the council he had concerns about taking a “fragmented” or “piecemeal” to provision of bus service outside of the city.
The specific question of providing bus service outside the city, and specifically to the Daniels Way area, has been part of public discourse for at least three years. In mid-2019, Foursquare ITP, the consultant that BT hired to make recommendations for new optimized routes, came back with a proposal to extend Route 3 to Daniels Way to make a loop up around Ivy Tech.
At that time, the BT board was hesitant to pick a potential political fight with the city council about extending service outside the city’s boundaries. BT board member Marilyn Hartman said at the time, there’s no point in BT “flapping our wings” if the city council is not behind the idea.
So Foursquare’s recommended new Route 3 was trimmed back at the city boundary.
Legal questions about the extension of bus service outside the city boundary are supposed to be addressed in BT’s strategic plan, which is currently being developed.