Northwest Indiana’s roads and transit systems will get significantly more funding from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed recently.

And that will mean more work — but perhaps not enough more money — for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission staff, commission members learned Thursday.

NIRPC reviews and prioritizes money for transportation projects in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. It also works on programs for the region’s economy and environment.

Federal money for local road projects and highway safety projects in the region could increase 32% with the new infrastructure bill, NIRPC transportation director Thomas Dow reported, and money for transit systems funded through NIRPC could go up 63%.

The transit systems that get money through NIRPC don’t include the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District or the Gary and Michigan City bus systems, all of which get federal funding directly.

Increased funding for some programs could be even higher, such as 76% more for transportation alternatives, while money for projects to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality will go up only 10%.

“It’s really early,” Dow added in his presentation to the NIRPC executive board. “We still probably have a lot of questions, just like you do.”

He added later that while the new five-year federal infrastructure funding bill has been authorized by Congress, the appropriations measures haven’t been passed yet.

The problem for NIRPC now is that while its workload will increase, its own funding will not keep pace.

The federal infrastructure bill will increase NIRPC’s funding by 32%, to a little over $2 million. NIRPC will need to match that with about $501,000 it raises locally. However, its current local funding totals $539,000, and that will leave only $38,000 for all the other work NIRPC does.

The three counties that belong to NIRPC provide operating money for the agency based on a formula — 70 cents per resident — that hasn’t changed since the Indiana General Assembly set that rate in 1992, nearly 30 years ago.

The NIRPC board passed a resolution in 2019 asking the legislature to raise the per capita funding to 96 cents, but it was too late in the General Assembly session then to get that passed.

The need for more funding “is becoming more and more pertinent every day,” NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner said.
Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune