Tens of millions of dollars are heading onto the roads and bridges of southern Indiana over the next five years as part of Governor Eric Holcomb's Next Level road plan. Local officials say the plan won't just put a lot of construction crews to work, but it will also make for safer and better roadways.
The governor's plan is backed financially by a 10 cent per gallon increase on fuel taxes in Indiana and a $15 per vehicle hike in registration fees. The plan calls for construction of 10,000 lane miles of road and repair of 1,300 bridges at a cost of $4.7 billion.
“For the first time in our state history we now have a truly full-funded, sustainable 20-year roads program that is going to connect us in ways to markets like never before,” the governor said.
State Senator Eric Bassler (R-Washington) says road plan was the result of tough but necessary decisions by lawmakers at the statehouse.
"We are elected to make tough decisions," he said. "Raising taxes and fees in the long run will be beneficial to the state."
State officials are already gearing up for an unprecedented road construction boom.
"I think we're going to see more road construction in the next five to 10 years than I have seen in my entire lifetime," added Bassler.
Officials point out that by improving the roads they are making travel safer and putting less wear and tear on vehicles. Better roads are also considered to be a key for economic development.
“Our state and local economies greatly depend on a reliable transportation network,” said State Rep. Mike Braun (R-Jasper).
“The Next Level Roads Plan sets in motion more than $4.5 billion in statewide infrastructure projects over the next five years, with nearly $50 million going to Daviess, Dubois, Martin and Pike counties. Future construction projects will culminate in almost 500 miles of resurfaced lanes and 28 rehabilitated bridges in our local community. Our long-term, responsible funding plan will keep Indiana’s infrastructure safe and functioning for years to come without saddling future generations with mountains of debt.”
In Daviess County, the plan is to spend $7.5 million over the next five years to resurface 287 lane miles of road and rehabilitate or replace seven bridges.
"I am ecstatic to see the plans the state has for Daviess County," said County Highway Supervisor Phil Cornelius. "This will allow our roads and bridges to keep up with the times."
The work being done under the road plan won't be all be going to state roads. It also includes funding for local projects. The plan also provides an additional $342 million annually to cities, towns and counties for local projects by 2024.
Overall, the Indiana General Assembly set in place a road infrastructure funding package for the next 20 years.
"This includes the Community Crossings projects," said Cornelius. "The state just closed the second round of applications for those and we submitted plans for CR 350E and CR 200N. We are going to keep working on these projects the public has been asking for and deserving forever."
While the governor is touting the five-year plan, officials say that the funding that is now in place, including the 28-cent per gallon gas tax should be building roads for much longer than that.
"We haven't had a long-term road funding plan ever in Indiana," said Bassler. "This will last well beyond those five years."
The gas tax increase is also sending additional money to local road and street departments. Daviess County officials are anticipating a 30 to 40 percent increase in the Motor Vehicle Highway fund. Daviess County also received more than $1 million last year as part of a Local Option Income Tax release and a budget increase the year before that.
"Before now we didn't have any money," said Cornelius. "This puts the pressure on us to get some things done. We still are one of the top counties in Indiana in gravel roads (480 miles). I would like to see us convert at least 50 of those miles to pavement in the next five years."
Cornelius says the county has significantly increased its funding for materials with $750,000 for rock and $600,000 for pavement.
"If we can get the work done, I think we can carry out our five-year plan in about three and a half years," he said. "We have the money. It is just going to be getting people in to do the work."
The Daviess County projects at this point do not include a rebuild and upgrade on Business 50 through the county and through the city.
"The state and the city have been involved in a standoff over that road for 20 years," said Bassler. "It is time we get it worked out and get the road fixed right. I know the Mayor (Joe Wellman) is working on this. We met with Senator Kenley on this last spring. I know INDOT is also looking at it. We will continue to push to get it done."
Local officials say the road improvements they want to do are a lot more than just putting some "black on top" and includes fixes that will last for generations.
"We want to upgrade our roads the right way," said Cornelius. "We are getting the correct amount of right of way, doing drainage and building the base before we pave. If we do it right now, then it will be fiscally sustainable. We want our kids and grandkids to look at the roads and say we did a good job."
Indiana’s gas tax is now 28 cents a gallon for passenger vehicles. The hike has been predicted to add between $60 to $80 to the average driver’s annual fuel costs.