(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star
It was as clear as the picture before their eyes — literally.
The House and Senate agreed to spend $230 million in new money over the next two years on state highway and bridge maintenance. That’s $115 million additional each year for two years — then legislators have to start haggling again over how to fix roads sure to be depleted even more. Local thruways will get some needed attention under the plan, which allots $580 million for upkeep of city streets and county roads.
When the gavel strike signaled the conclusion of the 2016 Legislature, the administration of Gov. Mike Pence, who had sought $1 billion for Hoosier roads, engaged in a rhetorical roundabout.
“He’s the governor for all roads in Indiana,” said Pence’s budget director, Micah Vincent, in pivoting away from what must have been a disappointing result.
Indiana’s ignored infrastructure needs better care. A 2013 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers ranked 10.2 percent of our bridges as “structurally deficient”; another 12 percent of the spans were “functionally obsolete.” Indiana highways fared even worse in the eyes of the engineers, who saw 16 percent of our 9,965 miles of major roads as being in “poor condition.”
Hoosier motorists are paying the price for traversing roads in ruin. The ASCE report found: “Driving on roads in need of repair costs Indiana motorists $2.1 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $391.41 per motorist.”
We’re not going to get a lot of mileage from the $230 million allocated by the Legislature.
Lost in the House-Senate compromise were plans to address road repairs through a 4-penny increase to Indiana’s 18-cents a gallon gasoline tax — a proposal that would seem to have made sense, given that many drivers traverse Hoosier roadways in gasoline-powered vehicles. That slight increase in the gas tax — the current rate was set back in 2003 — coupled with a proposed $1 increase in the cigarette tax would have provided an estimated $880 million in road funding the first year.
Every year after that, $450 million would have gone toward road and bridge maintenance, through use of more of the gas tax revenue. Additionally, fuel tax rates would have been tied to inflation, keeping better pace with cost increases for goods and services.
But rather than pass tax increases — and face an irked electorate — lawmakers virtually bypassed the more meaningful route to better roads. Instead, they kept their eyes on the rear-view mirror, to see what political challenger might be gaining on them.
Be it good fortune or chance, no one was injured when the I-70 bridge gave way to time and tires. We can’t always count on providence, though. And besides, motorists have enough to think about with just getting the kids strapped into their car seats, clicking their own safety belts, putting away their cell phones, and watching the traffic ahead — they shouldn’t have to scan the roads for crater-sized potholes.
We are left to wonder how many legislators found one of those potholes with a car tire as they drove home from the Statehouse.