Region should benefit from $1 billion state transportation plan

October 23rd, 2015

News Coverage:

Region should benefit from $1 billion plan

Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015 12:00 am
By Doug LeDuc

Any plan that could direct more state spending on bridge repair and road resurfacing in northeast Indiana is well worth taking a good look at, according to area officials who consider the region’s transportation infrastructure important to its manufacturing.

That would describe the 21st Century Crossroads proposal unveiled earlier this month by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, and some area reactions to it.

The plan would provide the Indiana Department of Transportation enough funding to resurface 16,000 miles of state highways and repair more than 5,200 bridges over the next 15 years by making an additional $1 billion available for that purpose without raising taxes.

Without the extra money, INDOT estimates it would resurface 12,000 miles and repair 4,030 bridges over the next 15 years, spokesman Will Wingfield said.

INDOT estimates that the Governor’s proposal would improve state bridges rated as fair or better to 97 percent of the total over 10 years, up from 95.3 percent now, and the proportion of state pavement rated in fair or better condition would rise to 94 percent, up from 90.3 percent.

"This will benefit businesses and the regional economy by reducing vehicle operating costs and wear and tear," Wingfield said.

State Representative Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, “is definitely welcoming the proposal and will definitely keep the proposal in mind as the legislature discusses it,” said Erin Reece communications director for the House Republican Caucus.

Manufacturing is a bigger part of the regional economy in northeast Indiana than it is in some other sections of the state and, for that reason, the area relies more heavily on the good condition of its rail, air and road infrastructure for the transportation of goods, said John Sampson, president and chief executive officer for Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

“What this funding does is it accelerates the emphasis on maintaining infrastructure,” he said. “More money for infrastructure, to maintain roads, is a good thing for northeast Indiana.”

In addition to the favorable impact on manufacturing in the state, Conexus Indiana considers improving its road infrastructure a good investment whether it is through maintenance, structure upgrading or new construction because it increases the infrastructure’s life span and reduces its preservation costs.

Because better roads improve fuel efficiency, investment in them also can help the environment, said David Buskill, director of industry outreach for the trade association that advocates for the state’s logistics and advanced manufacturing industries.

Conexus worked with area officials to identify the region’s top infrastructure priorities, and an example of those projects that has received a lot of attention is a proposal to convert U.S. 30 to a freeway from Fort Wayne to Valparaiso and on to Chicago, with interchanges at major intersections.

“There’s just a lot of traffic already on that road and any improvements that could be made would allow it to deliver more efficiently and speed up, because there would be fewer stops,” Buskill said.

Of the proposed $1 billion, $240 million would come from bonds, $241 million from reserves, $50 million from an accelerated distribution of interest, and $450 million from additional $150 million appropriations during the state’s 2018, 2019 and 2020 fiscal years.

Pavement maintenance activities the proposal would fund would include crack sealing, chip sealing, pothole repair, resurfacing, and storm water drainage improvements.

Bridge maintenance activities would include cleaning, deck overlays, rehabilitation, steel beam painting and structural repairs.

“At this early stage, specific information about 21st Century Crossroads projects in northeast Indiana is not available,” Wingfield said.

In addition to his 21st Century Crossroads proposal for state projects, Pence directed INDOT to work with local officials and the General Assembly to determine the right method of funding roads and bridges at the local level, he said.