I have bad news about your roads

There’s nothing anyone can do this year or next about the condition of your roads. Sure, we might scrape together a few million here or there to patch a few spots here and there. That’s fine. But the sort of wholesale “let’s just fix everything” approach many people expect is not going to happen soon.

Indianapolis has few legal options. For one, Indiana’s gas tax funding formula awards money to municipalities for road miles, not lane miles. Meaning a road that is 10 miles long and one lane each way is measured as 10 road miles. If that same road has two lanes each way, that’s still 10 road miles, but the extra lane makes it 20 lane miles each way. Indianapolis has a lot of multi-lane roads. We’re a net exporter of gas tax revenue, we get little back, and it doesn’t go as far because of the formula (it works out great for rural and small towns). The City can’t do anything about that beyond putting pressure on Legislators and the Governor.

We could do a referendum for a one-time blitz fix. That could be an option if things got bad enough, but I’m guessing most people don’t think that’s ideal. I don’t either.

For better or worse, IndyGo has become Indy’s biggest infusion of infrastructure funds through federal grants. 1/3 of the Red Line construction is for utility, sidewalk, curb, and street repairs. But we can’t rely on that forever, and it’s only for a 13-mile stretch.

The plain truth is Indy overbuilt. We have too many roads and too many small neighborhoods without the revenue to support their costs. This is why Hamilton County is probably right in setting minimum square footage requirements for new construction. They know they need a certain tax income from a house for it to pay for the road, water, sewer, police, and fire coverage it consumes. Marion County doesn’t have much to gain from that option, though it could still be done for new construction.

We could add tolls to some city streets, but that’s been defeated at the State House for highways and not ideal for urban streets where the next street over is “free”.

We’ve run out of things to privatize since the sale of the water and sewer utility. We could privative some roads, but that is likely to show people the true cost of their neighborhood streets. For instance, an HOA could take ownership of their own street repair (like many already do for snow removal), but sticker shock is likely to follow when HOA rates skyrocket.

The best way forward is likely what we’re doing: strip patching what we can to hold things together, fighting for the best prices on road repair, and work to develop more of a tax base in Marion County to support what we have. That means saying no to tax abatements and subsidies to private groups at the expense of the City.

And despite all the talk about lack of funding for roads, I assure you somewhere in the halls of DPW is a plan for new road construction. There are probably brand new roads that will get built this year. We should follow Ohio’s example on this. Unless we know they’re paid for, there should be no new roads.

You can read more about my thoughts on transportation issues here

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Justin Harter for District 12