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Local Officials Skeptical Of Increase In Federal Highway Funding

Kara B

An 11th-hour federal transportation bill the president signed last month adds $50 million in annual federal funds each year to Indiana’s transportation budget, but some people say that money might not make much of a difference in solving the state’s maintenance needs.

The bill, called the FAST Act, gives Indiana a billion dollars annually through 2020. INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield says it’s the first long-term transportation bill the federal government has released in years.

“It’s typically been short extensions or extensions of the previous bill,” he says. “So what had happened that over time the amount of state funds that have been used for state highways has increased.”

Some states have eschewed large plans while waiting on federal funding security, but Indiana has done the opposite. Projects such as Hoosier Heartland Highway and I-69 are at or nearing completion, and now focus turns to shovel-ready maintenance on the state’s crumbling infrastructure. “We’re now moving toward taking care of our existing roads and bridges,” Wingfield says.

Even maintenance of existing bridges and roads doesn’t exactly come cheap. One local contractor says it’s common for routine maintenance to cost anywhere between $300 thousand and $900 thousand per bridge.

Local officials are skeptical of how far the increase in federal funds might go. Wingfield says one-fourth of federal funding is earmarked for local roads. That evens out to approximately a $12.5 million annual increase for local and county highways. Tippecanoe County Highway Director Opal Kuhl says that number isn’t impressive when it’s spread out over 92 counties, especially when repaving a single mile of a two-lane county road costs approximately $50,000.

She says the county saves federal funds for large projects where it can secure an 80-20 funding split.

“When the big increases in federal dollars come through they help us but not that much,” Kuhl says.

That means officials at the local level are still looking to the statehouse for funding.

“We’re watching the legislative session in Indianapolis pretty closely,” Kuhl says. “I think that we’ll definitely get some funds out of that that will be more helpful to us than ones at the federal level.”

Governor Pence and Statehouse Republicans differ on the need for a short-term influx of cash or a long-term road funding plan. 

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