As city looks to state for help, path to more road funding unclear

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Indianapolis officials are looking to state government for options that could help the city close a funding gap of up to $1 billion a year for roads and transportation infrastructure.

Local money for roads typically comes largely from the state, but Indiana’s road-funding formula allocates gas-tax funds and other revenue by center-lane miles rather than overall lane miles, favoring smaller communities with fewer multi-lane streets.

Indianapolis, by virtue of its position as the state’s largest city, owns numerous multi-lane thoroughfares, including every former state highway within the Interstate-465 loop.

Department of Public Works Director Dan Parker said one of the city’s strategies is to talk with state legislators about funding options, but that he’s not going after the formula.

“I’ve been around the Statehouse long enough to know that you don’t change formulas, because anytime you change a formula, there’s a winner and then there’s a loser,” Parker said. “But are there other ways that that help can come?”

It’s unclear how willing the Republican-dominated Legislature is to help the Democratic-controlled city explore new options.

House Ways and Means Vice Chair Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, said he hadn’t heard of the need Indianapolis had identified, but noted most local governments had more money than usual because of a string of federal pandemic relief bills.

“I haven’t heard anything from Indianapolis about wanting more money,” Cherry said. “But I would be interested to hear how they spent their money from the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act or other federal funding.”

Ways and Means Ranking Minority Member Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said he didn’t believe Indianapolis was getting its “fair share” of funding, citing 2019 reports of Indiana officials discovering an error in the formula that had short-changed the city by millions of dollars.

Porter said the state’s own nest egg could be a way to benefit communities across the state.

Asked if he thought there was openness within the Legislature to exploring other funding possibilities, Porter said, “From a Democrat perspective, yes. We’re sitting on a $5 billion surplus … I think the possibilities could be there. It’s just a matter of if we have the will to help local governments with transportation.” But that shouldn’t include a tax hike, he added.

Late last year, Indiana officials projected the state’s surplus would top $5 billion by June 2022. Officials announced that month that the surplus triggered an automatic tax refund of $545 million.

For Parker, the Indiana Department of Transportation’s recently-launched Community Crossings grant program for local road projects was an example of funding that “didn’t exist forever” and could be created. But from the city’s perspective, it’s not particularly impactful.

“That helps us, but we don’t even recapture back what we put into it,” Parker said. “So, Indianapolis [taxpayers] put about $22 million a year into Community Crossings, but we only qualify for $1 million back.

He said DPW has, in the meantime, tried to reduce its long-term maintenance costs by reconstructing streets with flawed foundations instead of paving them over, and converting lanes on underutilized roads to bike lanes and sidewalks.

Indianapolis has also embarked on a massive infrastructure push under Mayor Joe Hogsett, using bonds, grants and some of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan allotment. But it’s not enough to make up the gap identified in the report by Indianapolis-based engineering firm HNTB Corp.

That gap is $70 million annually just to stay at current funding levels—which by 2025 would leave the city’s infrastructure in worse shape than it’s in now, according to the report. But the city actually needs $1.07 billion a year more to properly maintain and improve bridges, thoroughfares and residential roads, sidewalks and other assets, the report said.

The report itself was an initial step toward plugging the gap, Parker said.

“If you’re going to ask for additional help from whatever source, you’ve got to be able to say: What is your ask? What is your need?” Parker said. “… We had it based on estimates. This is now based completely on data.”

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9 thoughts on “As city looks to state for help, path to more road funding unclear

    1. Indianapolis Republicans will never willingly work to improve the roads of Indianapolis because it remains one of the few campaign points they could have a Republican mayoral candidate get traction on against Joe Hogsett. They’re not going to give him a “win”.

      Look at what Freeman and Sandlin and Young spent their time and energy on this session. They didn’t do anything with road funding. At most, they tried to stop IndyGo from doing the Blue Line … which would have provided federal funding to fix a lot of infrastructure at the cost of a lane on Washington Street. But they didn’t fight to stop the Blue Line and, at the same time, promise state funding to fix Washington Street.

      Of course, Statehouse Republicans, as noted, would be very hesitant to help fix the problem because it might jeopardize the subsides they get from Indianapolis right now. And, the last time we had a Republican mayor, the solution was to sell off more city infrastructure (parking meters), giving us a one-time cash infusion at the cost of an increased long-term revenue stream.

  1. The state has no obligation to bail out a poorly run city like Indianapolis. The city needs to better prioritize funding for basic services like roads vs. questionable “quality of life” initiatives and the bizarre mass transit Red & Blue Line nonsense.

    1. 1) Indianapolis, explicitly Center Township, subsidizes the rest of the State, not the other way around. If Indy is obligated to pay for the rural communities, why isn’t the State obligated to return a semi-proportionate share of the funds to the State capital and biggest revenue donor?

      2) Transit funds cannot be used for any other purpose. The transit referendum was for an income tax dedicated to transit and the Federal funds (which paid for new streets around the BRT lines that Indy otherwise couldn’t afford) can’t be used for anything other than transit and its supporting infrastructure.

    2. The city of Indianapolis bails out the entire rest of the state while being robbed of a fair portion of tax dollars…

      You can’t just make up opinions and present them as facts, John.

      Our mayor is useless, but that does not mean the city is “poorly” run.

    3. This insular attitude–“We, the Esteemed City Dwellers, Know What’s Best and Should Disregard Our Own Colossal Problems Because We Are the Economic Driver for the Rest of the Fundamentally Worthless State”–is primarily what has dragged Illinois into the declining employment/population mire that it currently faces…courtesy of Chicago (whose metro is enough of a majority to steer the politics for the remaining 98% of the state’s land area). The same could be said for NYC within New York State, or the Twin Cities within Minnesota. Increasingly Atlanta’s role within Georgia.

      At some point, the urban sophisticates may need to check their monstrous egos and realize that states–and the nation as a whole–function much better when one ideology that represents a clear demographic minority doesn’t try to ramrod its way through the rest of the state. Compromise and negotiation are necessary. But bear this in mind: unlike much of rural unincorporated America, most American cities have enough sovereignty–charters, mayorships, city councils–to build progressive policies all the want. They can develop stringent anti-discrimination and environmental regs. They can harness support for robust transit. They can fill themselves with tents, needless and feces to their hearts’ content. I agree that the Indiana state legislature shouldn’t restrict Indiana from enacting more “progressive” laws on landlords, firearms, environment. But the City (any city) shouldn’t be so surprised that not everyone wants to live the way they do, and that their perceived superior educational attainment doesn’t give them the right to reign over the underlings in the hinterlands.

      Easier said than done, but don’t let hubris turn Indiana into another Illinois. If urban progressives had the world figured out, Seattle and Chicago would be really nice places and getting better all the time. Yet Amazon just announced they’re relocating a huge segment of their workforce from the former city. Hmm.

    4. Lauren B: What? Rural populations are over-represented in the State of Indiana and the nation as a whole, thanks to gerrymandering and the structure of the Senate. The City hasn’t “reigned over the hinterlands” to any stretch of the imagination, quite the opposite. Conservative lawmakers have been hammering Indianapolis for making its own choices while siphoning money away to keep their shrinking communities afloat (keep in mind the rural Indiana and rural America is emptying out; fewer and fewer people want to live in the middle of nowhere with no public services and regressive policies). Seattle and Chicago are both growing in population. Not one bit of your comment is based in fact and contributes no substance to the conversation.

  2. The entire county of Marion is a TIF district with those tax fund going to developers and corporations that cry poor. Infrastructure funds go to areas of gentrification or areas the city wants to promote, as well as the “better” neighborhoods. Broad Ripple should receive TIF funds??