EDITORIAL: Choose roadwork based on need, not politics

July 5, 2014

A pothole has no views on politics.

And neither should elected officials when choosing how to spend taxpayer money on repairing potholes, along with cracked streets and crumbling sidewalks.

Yet the City-County Council has turned infrastructure repair into a political battleground, with Democrats and Republicans touting competing proposals for how to finance and assign a vital round of major public infrastructure needs. Republicans want to work from a list of priorities set by the Department of Public Works, along with input from councilors and neighborhood groups; Democrats want money spent evenly in each council district, and they want the council to sign off on each project.

The Democrats’ plan is both unwise and unwieldy. Where is the wisdom in dividing resources equally when road needs are far from geographically equal? Some parts of the city are older; some roads are more heavily used. And just imagine how long it would take to repair the decay if every new curb cut has to be debated and dragged through the political wringer before concrete can be poured.

City engineers have already been tasked with determining criteria and setting priorities for tackling Indianapolis’ infrastructure work. DPW professionals assigned three levels of rankings to targeted streets, based on a combination of road condition, traffic count, proximity to workplace or schools, and on-site assessment.

Of course, it’s also important to get input from citizens who live in the targeted neighborhoods and travel the targeted roads—people who have to leap over sidewalk holes and drive around street ruts. But beyond those voices, repair choices should be left largely in the hands of professionals.

Indianapolis hasn’t cornered the market on political infighting, but other cities seem to understand that experts need to make decisions about street repair. A spokeswoman for the city of Denver says city council members try to influence the order in which streets are repaired, but they don’t ask to add or remove streets from the list.

There’s still plenty of time for reason to prevail locally. The Public Works Committee has yet to formally hear either the Democrats’ plan, Fix Our Neighborhoods Now!, or the Republican proposal, Rebuild Indy 2. The Democratic plan hasn’t even been officially introduced in the council; Democrats unveiled it in a June 18 press conference.

Both parties should feel free to tweak and finagle and compromise on funding sources, and on time lines. But please let engineers choose the projects—based on need, not on councilors’ constituency.•


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