Marion County to receive extra $8M in annual road funding
Marion County will receive an extra $8 million in funding for roads, bridges, sidewalks and other infrastructure under a bill poised for passage in the Indiana General Assembly.
Lawmakers serving on the conference committee for Senate Bill 283 approved final changes to the legislation on Wednesday, sending it to the full House and Senate, where it is expected to pass with near-unanimous support.
“You’ll be happy to know there is bipartisan agreement,” said bill author Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on the bill.
The legislation ensures that three townships that are currently not counted as part of Marion County’s population in the state’s road-funding formula are included—a change that is expected to result in roughly $8 million in additional annual road funds for the county. Those townships weren’t taken into account in the city’s share of state road funding due a technical error, Freeman said.
Indianapolis will also need to come up with a local match for the $8 million.
The bill requires that at least 65% of the funds be used for “construction, reconstruction, and preservation of highways.” Current law provides that at least 50% of the funds must be used for those purposes. It also requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to conduct a study to determine the conditions of the city’s former state highways and provide lawmakers with the results of their findings no later than Nov. 1.
The $8 million is welcome, but will do little to address the city’s road-funding shortfall. A report from Indianapolis-based engineering firm HNTB Corp. using 2019 data found the city would need $635 million in additional annual funding to maintain its roads.
In 2021, the state allocated $663 million in road funding to local governments across the state. Marion County received just more than $30 million of that amount, or about 4.5%, despite making up about 13% of the total state population.
Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, introduced a controversial amendment to the bill last month that would allow the city to declare itself as a distressed unit of government, a move that would give the state the authority to appoint an emergency manager to oversee all aspects of the city.
Behning said he introduced the amendment because it would have allowed the city to leverage more resources to pay for infrastructure costs, including taking up to 20% of its tax increment funding to put toward road funds, enacting a $50 vehicle registration fee and raising its wheel tax.
He withdrew the amendment after city officials, local government advocates and Democratic lawmakers testified that the change would result in a tax increase for Marion County residents and put the city’s financial reputation at risk.
The conflict served as a flashpoint in the ongoing fight between city and state leaders over the state’s road-funding formula, which allocates gas-tax funds and other revenue by center-line miles rather than by vehicle miles traveled. As a result, rural counties with sparse traffic end up receiving a greater share of those dollars to the detriment of dense, urban areas.
When asked earlier this month about the prospect of changing the formula, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said he’s hopeful that a coalition of central Indiana mayors can exert greater influence at the Statehouse in the coming years.
“[Central Indiana mayors] have had a more collaborative, cooperative approach,” Hogsett told IBJ in an interview. “It may not get us over the finish line this time around. But I think it’s only a matter of time before the Indiana General Assembly is going to be forced to face the music in terms of changing the road-funding formula to make it more equitable for all communities in Indiana, not just those that are less dense in population.”
A study conducted by the Indianapolis-based Policy Analytics last year found that the eight suburban counties in the Indianapolis metropolitan statistical area fell in the bottom third in terms of funding by local vehicle miles traveled. Ohio County, the smallest and least populous county in the state, received the most funding under that model.
While Marion County maintains about 8,400 miles of roadway measured by lane miles traveled, it receives funding for only about 3,300 of those lane miles, according to city officials.