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Indianapolis roads crumbling despite huge influx of infrastructure dollars

Posted at 11:02 PM, May 06, 2013
and last updated 2015-05-18 11:52:41-04

The Call 6 Investigators have uncovered thousands of sections of crumbling roads in the heart of central Indiana, despite the city of Indianapolis spending an unprecedented amount of money on infrastructure in recent years.

From the sale of the city’s water utility in 2010, the RebuildIndy program has provided an influx of more than $420 million to help fix deteriorated roads and improve infrastructure.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney obtained a database of road sections in Marion County and found each gets a “Pavement Condition Index” ranking on a scale of 0 to 100, with a 0 score indicating a failing road and 100 indicating a road in excellent condition.

Kenney found 13 percent of road sections are listed as failing, poor, or very poor.

"I don't find any poor roadways acceptable," said Andy Lutz, chief city engineer. "No, it's not acceptable, but it's kind of the nature of the beast of being in a lack of funding."

The data is not surprising to homeowners who have been waiting for years to see their road paved.

"I want something done about this street now," said Jim Poole, who lives in the 1800 block of North Emerson Avenue. "It's so frustrating."

Poole said the road is in such disrepair that pieces of it end up in his yard.

"I had a rock come through the window," said Poole. "The street's falling apart. It's so frustrating."

Patrick Murphy, who lives on 79th Street between Michigan and Township Line roads, showed Kenney piles of asphalt that have accumulated on his property.

"I have to clean this up every spring," said Murphy. "It’s terrible. These holes go somewhere, and it turns into gravel that fills my driveway."

Tonya Ford, who runs a day care on Boulevard Place, is concerned about cars swerving around the rotting road.

"It's definitely a safety issue for the kids," said Ford. "We've actually had suspension on our cars damaged."

Records obtained by Kenney show citizens filed 38 complaints to the Mayor's Action Center about crumbling conditions on Boulevard Place in the last two years.

Records also showed the Mayor's Action Center received more than 900 paving requests in 2012.

VIDEO: What happens when you call the Mayor's Action Center

Rachel Rhodes Kissinger said she is confused because the city paved parts of Carrollton Avenue, but skipped the 2700 block, where she lives.

"It just seems very random what they’re doing," she said. "It doesn't seem like they're picking the worst streets to pave first."

How City Picks Which Roads to Fix First

The Department of Public Works told RTV6 it uses a variety of factors to determine which streets to resurface, including the road's "Pavement Condition Index" rating and traffic counts.

"So if a road has 10,000 cars a day and one has 2,000 cars a day, we're going to attack the 10,000 cars a day roadway," said Lutz. 

The city denies placing a higher priority on wealthier neighborhoods versus poorer neighborhoods.

"No, absolutely not," said Lutz. "We try to spread the wealth across the entire county."

The Call 6 Investigators did not find any patterns in the data to suggest the city puts more emphasis on higher income neighborhoods.

DPW also considers complaints to the Mayor's Action Center.

"It's very helpful when they pinpoint an address for us so we can turn it in," said Sarah Taylor, director of constituent services for Mayor Greg Ballard. "The basic call about a pothole is a common call, but then there are times people call us and say, 'We have a stretch of road that needs attention.'"


Complaining to a City-County councilor or mayor’s neighborhood liaison also gets the attention of DPW.

"We always go out to the council districts and we talk to the mayor’s neighborhood liaisons," said Lutz.

When DPW gets a complaint about a road, it sends out inspectors, such as Warner Anderson.

"You never get caught up," said Anderson. "In addition to looking at the pavement, we look at the drainage, as well as the curbs and sidewalks."

RTV6 rode along with Anderson as he inspected Boulevard Place.

"I am surprised at how bad it is in spots," said Anderson. "Clearly, what we're seeing now is it needs to be resurfaced because of the condition."

But it's not always that simple.

The city is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of 7,300 lane miles of streets that need to be repaved roughly every 20 years.

To resurface just one mile of a two-lane street costs taxpayers $312,000, DPW spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said.

And those hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of the water utility are running out fast.

Lutz told Kenney dwindling funds means there will be fewer roads fixed than the last few years.

"Oh absolutely," said Lutz. "You're going to go from $150 million a year to $40 million, so you're looking at a quarter of the money."

DPW may shift to doing more patching and less paving, or crews might pave only small sections of the road.

"You might not see a mile of road getting resurfaced. You might see a quarter of a mile, the worse quarter mile," said Lutz.

The city is also responsible for 524 bridges, 2,966 miles of sidewalk, 400 large culverts, 1,140 traffic signals and 476 miles of alleys.

"We've got so many more needs in the city than we've got money to fix," said Lutz. "We try to pump money in and fix as much as we can, but as we're fixing things, that deterioration curve is still moving down."

DPW just released its newest paving list a few weeks ago, and Boulevard Place from 30th to 38th Street is on it. The section outside Ford's day care will not be paved.

"It's bad news for us, and I think that's kind of bizarre," said Ford. "You feel a little belittled when you see other areas getting fixed."

According to the paving list, the city will resurface 79th Street, where Murphy lives, but Poole and Rhodes Kissinger are out of luck, for now.

"We're still pushing. We're not going to give up," said Rhodes Kissinger.

"It’s so frustrating," said Poole.

Regarding Poole's section of Emerson, Sample said resurfacing is part of the Emerson Avenue Streetscape project.

"It has not started yet, because it is still in the design page," Sample wrote in an email to RTV6. "We'll send the final plan to INDOT this year, and then the schedule will depend on when we receive the federal funding."

Drivers Pay For Bad Roads

Since 2011, Indianapolis has paid $169,000 for vehicle and property damage caused by potholes and negligent road maintenance.

The city does not pay every claim, but it received 1,459 claims in 2011, 334 claims in 2012 and 159 claims so far in 2013.

City crews have received 5,270 pothole reports so far in 2013 through the Mayor's Action Center and DPW's RequestIndy online and mobile tools.

Last year, one of the mildest winters on record, DPW received 4,600 pothole complaints. In 2011, the city received about 23,000 pothole requests.

At Engineered Wheel Repair on East New York Street, a bent rim can cost $150.

Welder Larry Lewis told RTV6 that bad roads also mean more wear and tear on the rest of a car.

"You wear out a lot more things, your shocks, your steering, everything works over time," said Lewis.
Although deteriorating roads are tough on taxpayers, the city estimates it would cost $217 million to get all existing roads to at least fair condition.

But that won't be easy. Even with the influx of RebuildIndy dollars from the water utility sale, the investments are only enough to bring one-third of the city's infrastructure up to fair condition, according to DPW.

DPW relies heavily on gas taxes, but more fuel-efficient cars and increases in the cost of oil have resulted in a decrease in gasoline use, the agency said.

DPW is redoing its Pavement Condition Index figures, and the new numbers will be released this fall.

If you’d like to report a pothole or submit a paving request, here’s information from counties across central Indiana --

By the Numbers: 

Indianapolis Resurfacing Dollars Spent

2008-$20 million
2009- $19 million
2010- $70 million
2011- $91 million
2012- $20 million

Since RebuildIndy’s Inception in 2010 the City has invested more than $560 million in infrastructure improvements.

• ADA Ramps =5994
• Sidewalks = 460,427 linear feet
• Bike Lanes =57.87 miles
• Alleys =22,409 linear feet
• Bridges = 53
• Culvers =1179
• Streets-ATL/Recon =19.3 lane miles
• Streets-resurface =858 lane miles
• Trails = 65,627 linear feet
• Traffic Signals =435
• Unsafe Buildings Demo = 2000 by March 2013
• Economic Development = Greater than $10 million investment

Can't see the map? Use this URL:

Follow Kara Kenney on Twitter: @karakenney6 | Facebook: Kara-Kenney-WRTV