(A Presidential Debate schedule and transcripts are here. – Admin.)
By Tony Cook
Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed $1 billion spending plan on highways over the next four years would represent an increase over current spending — but it leaves out a large portion of Indiana’s roads and bridges.
That’s because the plan would only fund state-maintained highways and bridges. While those are generally the most traveled, they make up only about a third of the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Counties and cities maintain most of the rest. But they would not receive any additional money under Pence’s proposal.
That’s a potentially serious problem because 80 percent of the state’s 1,900 structurally deficient bridges are owned by local governments, according to 2014 federal highway data.
“Our bridges aren’t necessarily maintained to the same standard. There’s not as much traffic,” said David Bottorff, executive director of the Indiana Association of Counties. “But we do have local traffic — school buses, farmers, and businesses that need to get their product to market.”
Overall, counties maintain 66 percent of Indiana’s bridges and 69 percent of its roads, Bottorff said. Much of the money to maintain those roads and bridges comes from fuel taxes, which have stagnated as vehicles become more fuel efficient.
Without additional funding, “our roads would just continue to deteriorate,” Bottorff said.
In announcing his plan on Tuesday, Pence said he recognizes the needs of local governments. He said he has directed his staff to work with local officials and state lawmakers to determine the right method of funding for local roads and bridges.
Pence’s proposal would be funded through a combination of dipping into the state’s reserves, creating new spending and borrowing money through bonding. No new taxes would be required, Pence said.
The four-year plan provides an additional $250 million a year on average, though the spending would be frontloaded so that nearly half of the $1 billion would be spent in fiscal year 2017, with smaller outlays from 2018 to 2020.
The new money would be in addition to the $3.2 billion state transportation officials already planned to spend over the next five years.
By way of comparison, Pence and lawmakers have provided an extra $100 million to $200 million in previous budgets.
“Given the uncertainty surrounding the Federal Highway Bill and the fact that it’s not a budget year, Governor Pence wanted to ensure that Indiana continues to invest in its infrastructure,” Matt Lloyd, a Pence spokesman, said on Wednesday. “Due to Indiana’s strong fiscal position, we are able to do that without taking money out of hard-working Hoosiers pockets by raising taxes.”
But highway improvement advocates worry that even with Pence’s proposed four-year, $1 billion infusion, the state will continue to fall behind in maintaining its infrastructure — and its reputation as the crossroads of America.
A group that includes local government representatives, highway contractors and others says the state needs to invest an additional $1 billion each year to maintain existing infrastructure and expansion. That includes $500 million a year to maintain local roads and bridges, Bottorff said.
State lawmakers are currently considering potential funding options. An interim committee is scheduled to meet at the Statehouse at 10 a.m. Thursday to discuss possibilities.
(Call Star reporter Tony Cook at (317) 444-6081. Follow him on Twitter: @indystartony.)