Indianapolis officials are seeking options from the state government that could help the city fill 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 per central lane mile rather than per global lane miles, favoring smaller communities with fewer multi-lane streets.
Indianapolis, due to its position as the largest city in the state, has many multi-lane arteries, including all former state highways within the Interstate-465 loop.
Department of Public Works Director Dan Parker said one of the city’s strategies is to talk to state lawmakers about funding options, but he’s not looking for the formula.
“I’ve been at the Statehouse long enough to know that you don’t change a formula, because every time you change a formula there’s a winner and then there’s a loser,” Parker said. “But are there other ways in which this 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 President Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, said he hadn’t heard of the need Indianapolis identified, but noted that most local governments have more money than they have. usual due to a series of federal pandemic relief bills.
“I hI haven’t heard anything from Indianapolis about wanting more money,” Cherry said. “But I would be interested to know how they spent their money from the [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Legislation or other federal funding.
Minority Ways and Means Ranking member Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said he doesn’t believe Indianapolis is getting its “fair share” of funding, citing 2019 reports on Indiana officials discover error in the formula that had cost the city 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 an openness in the Legislative Assembly to explore other funding opportunities, Porter replied, “From a Democratic perspective, yes. We’re sitting on a $5 billion surplus…I think the possibilities could be there. It’s just a matter of whether 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 exceed $5 billion by June 2022. Officials announced that month that the surplus had 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.
“It helps us, but we don’t even get back what we put in there,” Parker said. “So, Indianapolis [taxpayers] We invest about $22 million a year in community crossings, but we’re only entitled to $1 million in return.
He said DPW had meanwhile tried to reduce its long-term maintenance costs by rebuilding streets with faulty foundations instead of paving them, and converting lanes on underused roads into cycle lanes and sidewalks.
Indianapolis has also embarked on a massive infrastructure push under Mayor Joe Hogsett, using bonds, grants and part of the city’s US federal bailout allocation. But that’s not enough to close the gap identified in the report by Indianapolis-based engineering firm HNTB Corp.
That gap is $70 million a year just to stay at current funding levels, which by 2025 would leave the city’s infrastructure in worse shape than it is now, according to the report. But the city actually needs an additional $1.07 billion a year to properly maintain and upgrade bridges, arterial and residential roads, sidewalks and other assets, according to the report.
The report itself was a first step in closing the gap, Parker said.
“If you are going to ask for additional help from any source, you have to be able to say: What is your request? What do you need ? Parker said. “…We had it based on estimates. This is now completely data driven.