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Partisan battle freezes proposal to repave ravaged city streets

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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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  • Engineers know best?
    I can't take the engineers' or the City's embedded map of projects seriously when there is NOT ONE area of New York Street heading east from downtown to Irvington that is on the YES list. You can't drive under the overpass near Sherman without stopping. Add a bit of rain and it is a major backup, not to mention the car concerns.
  • Politics does not belong in Public Works
    I have worked within the public works engineering side of things in 4 states and it is the same everywhere. Doesn't matter how good your work is, or how thorough your evaluations criteria is, at the end of the day somebody up above says to balance it among all the Councillors, Commissioners, etc. So a high priority project in another district is canned so a councillor in another district can have a less priority project. the best part is when you get to tell a home owner, I can't do your project because a lesser priority project in district xx had to be added to balance it out. Essentially political fairness among the powers that be is more important the citizens needs. all that to say, get politics out of engineering and let the problem solvers solve the problems. you'll have better infrastructure and it will last longer.
  • more transparency
    How about publishing the DPW project list and let the public decide for themselves? Living near Glendale, I have absolutely no idea of what needs to be done on the Westside or the Southside; I can only trust that an objective determination be made of where the greatest need is and hope that those needs are taken care of first. If it can be proven that political needs trumped actual needs, then begin the process to find out why.
  • obvious
    Even the snow removal was obvious partisan politics. My 'primary thoroughfare' commute is obvious every day on pot hole repair, repaving, and snow removal from district to district as I drive in. No matter what party controls each district, it would be nice to have a continuous and effective form of maintenance of the streets instead of constant game playing of who's district it is.
  • Partisan Potholes
    Never knew we had Republican potholes and Democrat potholes. I guess none of us ever drive outside of the areas of our political parties affiliation. I claim neither party at this point. So fix the roads for those of us who are fed up with both Political Parties.
  • Misplaced Priorities is right on
    Its amazing that people can separate this situation from the push to spend $400 million on new roads. Silly.
  • New roads proposal?
    Meanwhile, State politicians and the lobbyist groups that fund their campaigns are gearing up to sell the public on another new roads proposal. This would all be humorous, if it weren't reality.
  • For the children
    School busses full of children need to drive on safe, paved streets. The Democrats are blocking funding to pave streets; therefore, Democrats hate children and want to put their lives at risk. Is that an untruthful, unfair, purely emotional argument not based on facts? Of course, because it's from the Democrat political playbook.
  • Usual Republican Tactics
    The Democrats have a valid point. Those districts not selected for repair, pay taxes too. If the most needed repairs are in Republican districts, then of course it should be closely scrutinized. Less well off districts have historically been marginalized or neglected. It still happens today. Thanks Dems for not believing everything the "official" reports state.
  • People not Politics
    Time after time the democrats on the council play politics instead of what's best for the people. I really hope the City is playing attention. Also, if they would eliminate the homestead credit we would have funding for the Police. The dems would rather see the City suffer instead of something that could possibly make the Mayor look good and they should be ashamed.
    • Indianapolis
      The Baghdad of the West.
    • Absolutely right
      You make a great point. I would like to know the condition of some of the roads that were simply repaved over the past couple of years. I suspect the work has been substandard. And, what about New York Street east to Irvington? There are places where you need to come to a dead stop and gingerly roll through the scarred roadway.
    • Streets are apolitical
      Perhaps the politicians should rely on best engineering judgment and not their own anecdotal evidence of what is cost-effective use of the City's limited funds.
    • 16th St paving
      How about repaving 16th St between College and Harding. Ambulances coming and going from Methodist are having to dodge craters, not to mentio nthe thousands of cars who travel through there each day.
    • Blind
      I wish they would actually rebuild streets instead of simply paving roads. New asphalt is great for a 4-year election cycle.
      • Inspiring
        I love statesmanship.

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