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Ask The Mayor: Lienhoop On Downtown Columbus Railroad Traffic

Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Columbus native Mike Pence, property tax caps, city salary review, LGBT city ordinance lawsuit, IU's new architecture program and abandoned street vehicles.

On this week's installment of Ask The Mayor, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: I have to start by asking you about the election and Columbus native Mike Pence now the Vice President-elect. Have you reached out to him?

Lienhoop: It's exciting, it's hard to believe. We don't have anything planned, but we have an intention to try and get together and commemorate his electoral success. I've sent him a few text messages to congratulate him.

Hren: Four Indiana cities including Columbus finally took part in the initial hearing over LGBT rights and city ordinances. You were hoping the judge would dismiss the lawsuit, but it's still ongoing with some changes. What happens now?

Lienhoop: There were two changes. The lawsuit named individuals as defendants and in Columbus it included members of the human rights commission and the judge took those individuals out. The second thing Judge Nation did was he required the state of Indiana into the lawsuit. Part of the allegation is that the Indiana RFRA fix was unconstitutional and it's really not in the city's realm to debate that.

Judge Nation of Hamilton will rule again on a second appeal so we'll just have to wait to see how that goes.

Hren: You say the city needs to update an ordinance to keep vehicles from being stored long-term on city streets. What precipitated the events?

Lienhoop: We've had some complaints from people who live downtown where parking is sometimes limited and your restricted to on street parking, and we've got folks who left their pick-up truck or trailer in the same place for a few days. And you'd like to be able to go out and encourage some compliance with good neighborliness. And when you find out your ordinance wasn't as clearly written as it could've been, then you realize up need to make a change.

Hren: From a Republic report, it looks like progress is being made on solutions for limiting traffic back-ups from railroad use downtown. What's the latest?

Lienhoop: Delays per day per hour per vehicle, roughly will be 900 to 1,000 hours a day which is a significant number. We've looked at building a series of overpasses and keeping the railroad where it is, we've looked at opportunities to move the railroad. I don't know how realistic that is, because it's pretty pricey. The point is to take a look at different alternatives and as best we could, cost out the benefit to be derived. Right now, we're still trying to pursue some costing options. Not only are you moving a railroad, but you're trying to do it across a river and through a flood plain.

We have a looming deadline of Jan. 15 of next year for projects we are to submit to the Indiana Department of Transportation. The Louisville and Indiana Railroad Company owns the ground bed and the rails. But they leased it all to CSX who put $100 million into upgrades into this line that they don't own, and that infers to me that they have a really long lease. This line shortens their trip from Louisville to Indianapolis — and more power to them. But they're coming through our town, so we're going to have some response to this.

Hren: This is the last show for Columbus in 2016, your first year as mayor is almost complete. What have you learned?

Lienhoop: Well, you learn a lot. But I've had a good time. There are some challenges, the railroad is one of significance. I feel really good about what we've been able to do. In respect to State Street, the project we were able to get back up and running and get the local people energized into the project. Riverfront development is another and we've been able to engage in a much broader conversation about the effects of drug use.

I think what we talked about back in January is trying to reconnect with city employees, and I believe we've been able to do that. I wanted Columbus to be a good employer, a fun place to work. What we do is we serve, we pick up your garbage, we've got police and fire that provide protection so find a way to enjoy doing that because it's good work. I feel like we turned a corner. At the same time, I wanted to reach out. I've made it a point of emphasis to to legislators, folks in the governor's office, state administration just to reintroduce myself and reintroduce Columbus and let them know we're interested in being a good partner.

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