Partisan battle freezes proposal to repave ravaged city streets

April 7, 2014

The Indianapolis Department of Public Works wants to spend $8 million to repave the “worst of the worst” major thoroughfares after a ravaging winter, but the money is being withheld by City-County Council Democrats who say the proposal favors Republican districts.

Democrats on the City-County Council think DPW should use money that’s already at its disposal but earmarked for other projects, which are still in the planning stage.

On Thursday, the Democrat-controlled Public Works Committee voted to table DPW's proposal to use $8 million in Rebuild Indy funds to repave the targeted thoroughfares. At-Large Councilor Zach Adamson, a Democrat and committee member, argued Monday that tabling the proposal won’t stand in the way of road repair.

“They’ve got $17 million in unencumbered funds they could be using,” Adamson said.

The majority-Democratic Council released a statement Monday alleging that Mayor Greg Ballard’s $400 million Rebuild Indy program favors Republican districts. Since selling the city’s water utility to Citizens Energy in 2010, the city has spent on average $6 million more in districts represented by Republican councilors than those represented by Democrats, according to the council majority’s statement.

The Democrats allege that DPW's $8 million in post-winter road repair would follow suit. No work was proposed in four districts, all represented by Democrats—District 2, Angela Mansfield; District 10, William Oliver; District 18, Vernon Brown; and District 20, Frank Mascari—according to a statement. (For a map of the proposed repairs, click here.)

“I can’t imagine that the worst of the worst excludes four districts completely,” Adamson said. “That’s too coincidental to be coincidental.”

DPW created the project list by identifying street segments that are in the worst condition, based on an engineer’s rating from 1 to 3—with 3 being the worst—and that have the highest traffic volume, spokesman Scott Manning said.  

“Some council districts have more miles of thoroughfare than others,” Manning said.

DPW has identified $24 million in urgent repaving needs but is proposing to spend $8 million in Rebuild Indy funds now. Some of the larger projects on the list include:

— East Washington Street between College Avenue and Emerson Avenue

— Most of Kessler Boulevard East Drive between College Avenue and Allisonville Road

— 56th Street between Reed Road and Raceway Road

— Fall Creek Road northeast of 71st Street to the county line

During Thursday's committee meeting, Democratic Councilor Monroe Gray zeroed in on Kessler Boulevard North Drive between 30th and 56th streets. He said he couldn’t see how it wasn’t on the list, and that he’d damaged a tire while driving on it.

“Now you’re telling me it’s not a bad street,” he complained to DPW Director Lori Miser.

“I’m telling you it’s not as bad as some of these others,” Miser said. “Some of these others are turning to gravel. We don’t have a lot of money, so we’re trying to deal with the worst of the worst.”

The public works department would prefer not to ditch planned projects like curb repair and new sidewalks in order to do emergency repaving, Manning said.

If the council doesn’t release the $8 million, the repaving could be done under Rebuild Indy II, Manning said. Rebuild Indy II is Ballard’s proposal to issue bonds and spend $350 million for a second round of infrastructure work.

Rebuild Indy II currently is under consideration by the council.

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