Why that bump in the gas tax isn't enough to fix Indy's pothole problem

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — The City-County Council agreed to tap a reserve fund and put an extra $14.5 million toward emergency road repairs. But the head of the Department of Public Works said it won't last long. It will be gone in a month, given all the needs.

Paying for road repairs is an issue year after year. So why doesn't the city have the money? Even with the increase in gas tax approved by the legislature last year?

DPW Director Dan Parker said the vast majority of money for road work comes from the gas tax and that increase means at least $15 million more in revenue this year. He said it definitely helps, but ultimately it's enough to resurface about seven miles of road.

Parker, for one, believes the distribution formula needs to be "more equitable" for cities like Indianapolis. He notes it's not based on traffic volume or more significantly the total number of travel lane miles. Instead it's based on "center lane miles."

That means a three-mile stretch of a single lane county road gets the same amount of money as a five-mile stretch of say Keystone Avenue, even though Keystone is six lanes across.

"Based on the calculations, we get gas taxes on about 3,300 center lane miles in Indianapolis, when we have 8,148 travel lanes, that's a huge gap. We have more multi-lane roads than anywhere else in the state," Parker said.

Parker said traveling every single travel lane in Indy would be one long road trip, like traveling from Indianapolis to Anchorage, Alaska, back to Indy and on to Washington D.C.

How's that possible? Indianapolis isn't just the largest city in Indiana, but the one with the most land mass. At 400 square miles (counting the excluded cities), you could fit three Atlanta, Georgia's within its boundaries.

So, a lot of lane miles and a lot of traffic, with a good portion coming from outside the city limits. Parker said roughly 170,000 vehicles a day come into Indianapolis from other counties, not to mention the truck traffic and buses, which add more wear and tear to the roads.

But back to the gas tax — INDOT gets most of it. Parker said with 28,000 lane miles it should, to fix interstates and state roads in need of major repairs.

But he also believes given Indy's sheer size, it should get additional funding.

"We're roughly 30 percent of the inventory INDOT has statewide, but yet we have only eight percent of the budget," Parker said. "The time has come now to look at the long-term needs for municipalities like Indianapolis."

He acknowledges the formula has been around a while, meant to make sure rural areas have the money they need for their network of roads used to transport agricultural products.

Will the funding formula ever change? Parker is among those who hope so, but he also knows it won't be easy.

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