An Indiana House committee on Tuesday voted to send an additional $8 million in road funding to Indianapolis and to consider a give-back of numerous former state highways. In doing so, lawmakers set aside ideas to enable a state takeover of the consolidated city-county for more funding options.
About 200,000 Indianapolis residents—those of Decatur, Pike and Wayne townships—are included nowhere in the state’s road-funding formula, said Rep. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. He authored Senate Bill 292 to correct that omission, which dates back to the merger between the city and Marion County in the 1970s.
But local and state officials acknowledged that change wouldn’t fix the problem.
Engineering firm HNTB last year found that Indianapolis faces an annual transportation infrastructure funding gap of hundreds of millions of dollars. And lawmakers last week repeatedly emphasized that metropolitan areas around the state could soon also reach a crisis point.
“As time moves forward, it’s not going to just be an Indianapolis issue. It’s going to be a Fort Wayne, Gary [issue]. A lot of our urban centers are going to find this to be a struggle,” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the bill’s House sponsor, and author of the controversial takeover amendment.
Money matters, roadway control
By including Indianapolis’ full population, the bill would send about $8 million more to the the city annually. It would result in an equal decrease in road funding to cities, counties and towns spread across the state, according to a fiscal analysis.
An amendment lawmakers adopted Tuesday requires Indianapolis to come up with a local match for that amount—excluding money earmarked for public safety—and says all the funds must go to roads.
And it tells the Indiana Department of Transportation to examine pavement condition throughout the numerous former state highways Indianapolis took over at the turn of the millennium. The subsequent report, due in the fall, could point to a give-back.
Indianapolis Chief Deputy Mayor Dan Parker told the Capital Chronicle that the city and county have already spent millions rehabilitating the former state highways and have millions more in neighborhood-friendly projects coming down the pipeline. INDOT designs wouldn’t necessarily look the same.
“[Residents] don’t want a state highway again. They want us to make the former state highway more compatible to being in a neighborhood,” Parker said. He noted that Indianapolis is also building rapid bus transit lines with dedicated bus lanes along two of those former highways.
Lawmakers adopted those changes with oral consent and advanced the bill unanimously, 13-0.
Committee chair Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, didn’t consider amendments allowing local units with significant road-related liabilities to petition for a “distressed” status with more funding options.
A Behning amendment proposed last week would’ve added road arrearage of at least $1 billion to the list of reasons local units could petition for an existing “distressed political subdivision” status.
That would’ve let an appeals board appoint a state emergency manager over Indianapolis, and given the board control over its spending. The committee heard testimony on that amendment—generally in opposition—but didn’t vote on it.
Lawmakers didn’t hear two reworked versions Tuesday, which would’ve created a road-specific “distressed” status and board.
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.