INDIANAPOLIS — Matt Niehoff’s morning commute from Rush County to downtown Indianapolis can be neatly divided into BC and AC—before and after construction.
His one-time 45-minute commute from Homer took him more than an hour as he detoured around a bridge construction project on State Road 44 and some badly deteriorated local roads.
“The biggest frustration was the lack of maintenance to the roads on the detour routes,” Niehoff said. “Those roads became very torn up and caused many issues from a traffic perspective. I drove further out of my way to avoid a few of those roads because I was concerned that they could damage my car.”
The now-completed bridge construction on Ind. 44 is part of the Next Level Roads project, a 20-year infrastructure plan projected to cost $4.7 billion in the first five years, according to the IN.gov website.
With more than $1 billion invested in 900 INDOT projects in fiscal year 2018 alone, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in Columbus in April at the agency’s kickoff off of the construction season.
“I’m glad the construction is over with and glad the bridge is fixed,” Niehoff said. “It makes the commute convenient again. The bridge is really nice.”
Since fiscal year 2012, the percentage of INDOT bridges rated as fair or better has increased from 91.8 percent to 94.7 percent, according to data on the IN.gov site. More than 89 percent of INDOT pavement is rated as fair or better condition post-construction.
The 20-year infrastructure plan is projected to cost $4.7 billion in the first five years.
Next Level Roads is funded by the gas tax Indiana lawmakers passed last year that raised the 18-cent existing gas tax by 10 cents and again by 1 cent last month. Along with the gas tax, Indiana residents are also paying a $15 car registration fee, though hybrids and electrics cars have higher fees. Drivers of diesel-powered vehicles also pay higher fuel taxes.
“I haven’t really paid to much attention to the gas tax. I have noticed a small uptick in my monthly gas spending, but I believe it’s worth the extra money to rebuild our outdated infrastructure,” said Niehoff.
Niehoff also said the gas tax is a good way to spread the cost of infrastructure maintenance across all users of the roads.
“I think it’s a good thing. Our infrastructure constantly needs improvement. With my career being in the commercial real estate world, economic development and infrastructure have a direct correlation,” Niehoff said. “For our region to continue to be competitive and attract new business we need to be investing in our infrastructure on a constant basis.”
Using transportation to build Indiana’s economy is Holcomb’s goal.
“Transportation plays a major part in Indiana’s success story,” Holcomb wrote in a letter to Hoosiers detailing the plan for Next Level Indiana. “Now, with a sustainable, data-driven plan in place to fund roads and bridges, Hoosiers can rest assured that Indiana will remain the Crossroads of America for generations to come.”
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development projects more than 16,000 construction jobs in Indiana will be created by 2026, a 12 percent increase over the next eight years, the agency reports. With Next Level Roads on a 20-year trajectory, do not expect construction to stop.
The upcoming September closure of Interstate 465 southwest between I-70 west of downtown and I-65 on the south side is a major concern for some Hoosiers traveling to work.
Cody Holland lives on the west side of Indianapolis and works at the Indiana Grand Casino. Holland said it usually takes him 35-40 minutes to get to work if the traffic is not bad but he anticipates his commute taking close to an hour during construction.
“The construction will add 15 minutes to my commute, not just because of the detour, but now traffic is going to be filtered somewhere else which will be hectic,” Holland said.
The southwest I-465 project is expected to start Sept. 9 for the eastbound lanes through Sept. 24. The westbound lanes are expected to be under construction from Sept. 28 to Oct. 8