Should lawmakers change the road-funding formula to give urban communities more money?
As the Association of Indiana Counties, our organization represents the interests of all 92 counties, spanning geographic, population and growth spectrums. From north to south, urban to rural, we support county government officials so they can support Hoosier taxpayers. As one of the most visible county services, providing a high-quality network of transportation infrastructure is one of the policy issues our members focus on the most.
For decades, state investment in local infrastructure has been a partnership that recognizes that the state’s road and bridge network is the backbone of the state economy. In addition to the state and federal dollars the state shares with local governments, each county, city and town also puts in its own resources to fund road and bridge improvements.
While there has been discussion in central Indiana about whether the state should send more of its funding to urban counties, to focus on an urban vs. rural divide is not necessarily framing the issue correctly. The question is whether the state should focus funding on units with larger infrastructure responsibilities. And I don’t believe that this question needs to be framed as urban vs. rural if we focus on statutory assignment of infrastructure responsibility among local units.
In Indiana, counties have the responsibility to build and maintain local bridges that exceed 20 feet in span, whether the bridge is inside city limits or not. That’s roughly 13,000 local bridges of varying length. If placed end to end, these bridges would add up to some 180 miles of span!
Aside from one or two counties that have interlocal agreements with a city (and, of course, Unigov), the cost for these critical pieces of infrastructure falls on county governments. This responsibility, in turn, lowers the otherwise available resources that can be put toward pavement conditions and winter operations. Bridges are not accounted for directly in any state funding matrix, and do not enjoy any dedicated funds in the popular Community Crossings Grant Program.
Local bridges are a vital part of the state’s transportation network in every part of the state, including urban, suburban and rural Indiana. According to Purdue Extension’s Center for Rural Development, over 3,000 local bridges have been in service since at least 1960, and over 2,000 of those were built before 1940. This infrastructure is expensive to maintain, with regular inspections federally required. But again, this is an existing statutory infrastructure responsibility that needs to be recognized if there is any consideration of changing the funding matrix.
It is certainly advisable to periodically review the overall road-funding landscape as the Legislature is currently with the FIRSST Task Force. Rapid inflation in road and bridge construction has increased the cost to maintain and improve roads at both state and local levels, and we look forward to continuing the partnership between the state and county government to assure quality infrastructure for motoring Hoosiers in every corner of the state.•
Hoff is director of government relations and general counsel at the Association of Indiana Counties. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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