By Samm Quinn
A legislative study committee gathered information Tuesday about the high costs of local road and highway construction as part of a larger effort to define the state's transportation funding problems and find ways to solve them.
Sen. Tom Wyss, chairman of the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions, said the state's roads and bridges have a lot of needs.
"Our needs are far exceeding our sources of revenue," he said. "I'm part of the problem. We're all part of the problem."
But, he said, the committee has gathered enough information to start working on plans to fix the problem.
The General Assembly charged the committee to meet for five years to tackle an issue that has vexed Indiana policy makers – and those across the nation. The need to maintain existing roads and the desire to construct more highways has been increasing as the money allocated to paying for the projects has been falling.
Indiana has been somewhat of an exception. Gov. Mitch Daniels leased the Indiana Toll Road to a private firm for $3.8 billion to help fund 10 years of transportation projects across the state. But in a few years, most of that money will have been spent and the state has no clear source for maintaining the momentum.
"Last year we defined the problem," said Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. "What we're trying to do though is get to the action phase."
He said the committee wanted to get evidence about what it costs to maintain a road or bridge. It will use the evidence and testimony given Tuesday to create a spreadsheet to present to the House and Senate in 2013.
"The whole intent of what we're doing is to have an empirical look of where we are, where we want to be and what it's going to take to get there," Soliday said.
The Association of Indiana Counties, Indiana Association of County Commissioners, the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Indiana Metropolitan Planning Organizations provided the committee on Tuesday with data about local bridges and roads and the costs of fixing them.
John Habermann, manager of the Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program through Purdue University, explained what it costs agencies to do road work or bridges, which he said varies depending on many different components.
Indiana, he said, is responsible for more than 11,000 bridges, while there are 500 agencies responsible for maintaining pavement throughout Indiana.
Andrew Berger, director of governmental affairs for the Association of Indiana Counties, said the data Habermann collected "speaks for itself."
Without much discussion from committee members, Wyss announced the committee doesn't plan to meet again in 2012. But he said that next year the group will meet to look at what it accomplished, what it did right and wrong, what information was inaccurate and what information it didn't have.
"We do have a problem in the arena," Wyss said. "I'm hopeful we can work together on this thing. If we're going to solve this issue, it has to be a team effort."
Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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