Ryan Hoff: Rather than urban vs. rural, focus on responsibility

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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.•

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Hoff is director of government relations and general counsel at the Association of Indiana Counties. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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5 thoughts on “Ryan Hoff: Rather than urban vs. rural, focus on responsibility

  1. The best defense that counties have to changing the road formula is “hey, bridges cost a lot of money, and if you’re going to change the funding, we can’t possibly pay for bridges too”.

    Indiana has to stop underfunding infrastructure. We don’t need House leadership (Jim Pressel, in charge of the Roads and Transportation committee, who hails from the 550 person unincorporated and stoplight free metropolis that is Rolling Prairie) saying ridiculous things like

    “I feel that we have enough of the revenue stream. It’s: how you you divvy it up? I think there’s plenty of dollars there to do what really needs to be done … to do maintenance.”

    1. Joe, I share your admonishment and disdain. The entire STATE has a vested interest in Marion county and the STATE’s Capitol. Years of ridiculous, rural designed infrastructure formulation has left Indianapolis with some of the least maintained roads and sidewalks of any state Capitol or major city in the country. There are many ways in which to correct this ongoing problem. One of which might be a fixed percentage of general tax funds automatically being dedicated to Marion county infrastructure each legislative budgetary session. If northwest Indiana can somehow garner billions to expand and upgrade rail service in order to facilitate public transportation to and from Chicago, then surely Indianapolis can at least have enough to repair city streets that, in some cases, haven’t had meaningful maintenance for 50-60-70 years. The current appropriation formula is woefully inadequate. Something needs to change, and soon!

    2. I would argue underfunding infrastructure is a statewide problem and it’s been abated in rural parts of Indiana by taking money from the urban areas and spreading it elsewhere.

      Both the amount of money collected and the amount distributed between state highways and local infrastructure should be re-examined. In my travels I’ve seen lots of marvelous looking state highways that … I would argue don’t get as much use as many local roads in Indianapolis.

      Which I’m fine with – we should build our roads to a high standard so they last a long time – but it shouldn’t come at the cost of other units of government.

  2. “The question is whether the state should focus funding on units with larger infrastructure responsibilities.” Urban areas by their very nature have larger infrastructure responsibilities than do rural areas.

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