Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is considering using some of the state's $2.14 billion in reserves to pay for infrastructure improvements, including high-priority repairs like those on an Interstate 65 bridge.
On Wednesday, Pence said he's supportive of discussions among lawmakers to make infrastructure the focus of the 2017 session where lawmakers will write a new state budget. Although no decisions have been made, including how much of the reserve money could go toward roads, Pence said his administration is looking into options to free up resources to invest in infrastructure.
"If you are going to be the Crossroads of America, you better have the roads to back it up," Pence said. "We're looking now in the short term at some opportunities for us to strengthen infrastructure across the state."
The governor's recent comments follow the closure of a bridge on I-65 in Lafayette last week that has forced motorists to use a detour and has caused lengthy backups on the busy highway. But Pence believes the Indiana Department of Transportation made the right call in closing the bridge after a pylon had sunk between 7 and 9 inches.
State officials are working with contractors to provide a timeframe of when the bridge will be repaired and reopened, he said.
"The economic impact is very significant," Pence said. "This is a major artery of commerce for the state of Indiana, and we're going to work 24/7 to determine how quickly we can get that back open to the public."
In response to Pence's comments, the Indiana Democratic Party has issued a statement criticizing his administration, saying the I-65 bridge closure was a preventable problem.
"Hardworking Hoosiers don't want to hear these 'maybes,' and they can't afford to wait until 2016 for possible short-term investments or 2017 for a long-term solution - they want solutions for right now," said party spokesman Drew Anderson.
Last year, the Federal Highway Administration identified 1,902 other bridges in Indiana as structurally deficient and in need of major repair or replacement.
None of the $600 million set aside for major highway projects by the General Assembly in the last two state budgets was used to maintain existing roads and bridges.