INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s rural road conditions appear to be improving.
Jamie Palmer, senior policy analyst with the IU Public Policy Institute, took part in a project that explored road and bridge conditions in six Indiana counties: Boone, Elkhart, Henry, Jasper, Posey and Rush.
The study examined road and bridge inventory and conditions, revenue and spending data, and winter operations data.
Researchers also met with county officials to discuss transportation logistics in each area.
“We found that the conditions are improving over time, especially with all of the money that the General Assembly has infused into the system,” Palmer said.
“Not surprisingly, they identified that gravel roads are a challenge. Their needs are so big, though, that sometimes gravel roads don’t get the attention that they’d like.
“Some other challenges identified for agriculture were small bridges and culverts. If it’s small, you can’t take big equipment over it. Also, there were challenges with soft pavement in winter and early spring.”
Northern counties face more variability in winter weather, according to the study.
“One winter may be horrible and the next may not be so bad,” Palmer said.
“One county told us that with the increasing incidence of severe weather, they find themselves doing more maintenance, like cutting trees off the road, so that’s another cost.”
Half of the counties in the study employ county engineers.
Counties that have engineers benefit from improved grant applications, funding and assistance — resulting in efficiencies, Palmer said.
Counties use funding from a variety of different sources.
“They all use funds that come from the gas tax,” Palmer said. “They’ve all gotten Community Crossings grants. About half used local option income tax, federal road and bridge money, and tax increment financing.”
Up next, Palmer is working on a larger-scale study with 43 counties providing data.
The study will allow researchers to better evaluate progress being made on roads and bridges.
In A Nutshell
1. Rural road and bridge inventories are improving as a result of state investments.
2. Rural counties manage their infrastructure in a variety of ways. There’s a need for flexibility.
3. Gravel roads and small bridges are a challenge for agriculture.
4. Funding is limited, making it important to be creative and smart about asset management.