Editorial: Indianapolis, suburbs deserve better street funding formula

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If the crumbling streets in Indianapolis weren’t evidence enough, a new study commissioned by the city provides even more proof that Indiana’s road-funding formula for local governments needs a complete rebuild.

The study put an exclamation point on what Indianapolis leaders have been saying for years: The current formula unfairly favors rural counties with sparse traffic and fewer lanes of pavement.

But it added a new twist. Indiana’s urban areas, from Gary to Evansville, aren’t the only ones being shortchanged by the formula. As IBJ’s Peter Blanchard reported last week, suburban counties with growing populations and miles of new roadway also are getting a raw deal.

The trouble with the current formula is that it distributes gas-tax funds and other revenue by center-line miles rather than the federal standard of vehicle miles traveled.

Center-line miles simply measure the length of a road, while vehicle miles traveled per capita is calculated as the total annual miles of vehicle travel in a particular county or region divided by its population.

A new analysis by Policy Analytics LLC shows that Indianapolis and Marion County rank dead last in state road funding among Indiana’s 92 counties when vehicle miles traveled are taken into account.

Marion, the state’s most populous county, receives just $3.22 per vehicle mile traveled, while Ohio County, the state’s smallest, receives the most at $19.15.

All suburban counties surrounding Marion receive less than the median of $10.42. Of those counties, Hendricks is hammered the hardest, ranking 90th at $3.62. Hamilton ranks 86th at $3.97.

The analysis goes a long way toward explaining why Indianapolis, the state’s largest economic engine, doesn’t have enough money to maintain its streets. The city estimates it faces a funding gap of $1 billion a year for roads and transportation infrastructure.

The Indiana Department of Transportation recently launched another program to help with local road funding, but even that hasn’t provided much help for Indianapolis.

Dan Parker, the new chief of staff for Mayor Joe Hogsett and the city’s outgoing public works chief, has said the city pays about $22 million a year into the state’s Community Crossings program but qualifies for only about $1 million back.

Taken as a whole, the state’s funding plan for local streets is woefully lacking in urban areas across Indiana. Now we also know it’s harming suburban Indianapolis counties, which account for much of the state’s growth.

That knowledge demands that the state’s urban and suburban mayors band together to persuade Indiana’s often rural-focused Legislature to either change the road-funding formula or come up with alternative programs that adequately take into account the transportation needs of the state’s economic and population centers.

The state’s future as a logistics hub and its attractiveness to new businesses and residents depend on meaningful change.•


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2 thoughts on “Editorial: Indianapolis, suburbs deserve better street funding formula

  1. An excellent editorial.
    Maintaining good roads, along with insuring public safety and funding quality education, are the most basic responsibilities of our State’s legislature. The poor quality of the roads in our State’s capital is not only a hardship for residents but this neglect is a serious impediment to the State’s economic development. It’s hard to imagine a corporation considering relocating to a state where the State government cannot develop a plan and consensus–particularly when all three branches of the State government are controlled by the same political party–to do something as basic as fixing the roads in the State’s most populous and economically most important city.
    All other legislative initiative should be put on hold until the Governor and members of the State legislature come together to address this problem.
    Tom H.