Indiana counties running out of money to fix roads

Funding comes up short for multiple counties

PUTNAM COUNTY, Ind. - With spring finally in full swing and the freeze-thaw cycle likely over for the season, county road crews are trying to patch and pave, but many are running low on money for fixes and the issue is only getting worse.

Jim Smith, co-supervisor of the Putnam County Highway Department, invited Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney on a ride to see how many roads are in poor condition.

"I'm going to say 60 to 70 percent of them," said Smith. 

Fixing the county's worst roads would cost $925,000, Smith said, but the projected road and street fund is $312,000, leaving a $613,000 shortfall.

"It's embarrassing, Kara. The thing is, (the roads are) only going to keep getting worse," Smith said.

More: Report road problems in your county -- http://www.theindychannel.com/news/call-6/requesting-road-repair-in-central-indiana

Putnam County Commissioner Nancy Fogle agrees, pointing out that it costs the county $102,000 to pave just a mile of road.

"It gets to the point where it's almost embarrassing," Fogle said. "When you have people come out and call you and wonder why their road's not fixed."

Each county's funding structure is different, but Putnam County gets its road money from a variety of sources, including gas tax, but as prices go up, fewer people are driving, resulting in less money coming in.

In Putnam County, excise tax also goes to the roads, but Fogle and Smith said pickup truck and SUV owners don't have to pay the tax.

"We're missing out on a lot of money, and I don't see it changing," Smith said.

When determining which roads to fix first, Smith said, the department looks at the road's condition, traffic counts and complaints.

During the spring, the Highway Department receives about 15 complaints a day.

"They say, 'If there's not something done with my road by the end of the week, I'm calling channel 6,'" said Smith. "I've heard that so many times, and we welcome them to do that."

Smith said taxpayers don't understand that their roads are not fixed with property tax money.

Making matters worse, recent rains washed out more than a dozen roads, leaving the county with even more to fix, but not more money.

"Until we get more money, there's not much we can do," said Fogle. "We have 17 roads that need repair work, and we have some roads in the southern part of the county that are still under water."

Smith said the county will be forced to turn paved roads into gravel roads, which is unpopular among residents but cheaper to maintain.

"Oh, they're furious, but it will take a major funding overhaul for counties to be able to sufficiently do what they need to do," said Smith.

Putnam County is not alone. Tippecanoe County Highway Engineer Opal Kuhl told RTV6 the county has $2.5 million worth of projects, but is short $700,000.

“Basically the decrease in Motor Vehicle Highway and Local Road and Street funds,” wrote Kuhl in an email to RTV6. “People are driving less and cars are more efficient, so less gas is being used, so consequently, less gas tax."

Bartholomew County Engineer Danny Hollander told Kenney the county is $800,000 short for road improvements.

“It is unfortunate that in order to make road improvements we have to make cuts to maintenance, but that is where we are,” Hollander wrote in an email to RTV6.

Boone County is about $1 million short this year, Highway Department Supervisor Rick Carney said.

"As prices go up on oil and materials needed to make asphalt, not to mention the constantly rising fuel prices, and cars getting better fuel mileage therefore not as much fuel is being purchased," wrote Carney in an email to RTV6. "It’s hard to get the funding we need to keep up with today’s traffic.”

Hancock County blames the problem on the rising cost of asphalt.

"Our hot asphalt mix has gone from $22.00 per ton to almost $40.00 per ton," wrote Joseph Copeland, Hancock County engineer, in an email to RTV6. "Also, we have had an increase in fuel, retirement benefits (PERF), salt, equipment costs, and labor.  But our income has not increased to keep pace with the expenses."

Copeland requested $2.5 million from the county council and received only $1.2 million.

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Contact Kara Kenney about a failing road -- kara.kenney@wrtv.com

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