Country Roads, Take Me Home

Country Roads, Take Me Home

Indiana has just shy of 29,000 total lane miles of roadways. Of that amount, almost 21,000 lane miles are rural roadways that serve as critical connections for thousands of Hoosier families and companies. Though they experience much less traffic on average compared to their Interstate and highway counterparts, rural roads are certainly a vital component of Indiana’s transportation infrastructure network both economically and communally.

With increasing regularity, red flags have been raised about the safety and viability of our rural road network and its bridges, rail crossings, and pavement conditions. The start of 2018’s second quarter however, brought about a ray of hope in the form of roughly $286 million that has been earmarked for improvements.

That’s likely to be good news for the business community, which has been pushing for upgrades and repairs for some time now. One notable example would be the initiative launched a few years ago via partnership between the Indiana Soybean Alliance and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council that encouraged agricultural producers to become more involved in the conversation about the need for improvements. At the time, stakeholders frequently reported that poor roadway conditions resulted in longer trips from farm-to-farm and from farm-to-market, costing both time and money. Manufacturers located throughout the state in other industries have also shared similar concerns over the years.

Indiana’s making a major effort to address these concerns under the Next Level Roads initiative, which calls for $30 billion in roadway improvement investments over the next 20 years. To add to that, the state recently received a large funding boost from federal sources to be used specifically for rural improvements, which fits in perfectly with Indiana’s efforts to help the economy grow and burgeon the workforce by implementing more attractive local amenities.

How Much?

  • $161.2 million in federal transportation grant funds for 66 rural road projects
    • Combined with local funds, about $212 million will be invested
  • $125 million in state matching grant funds has been allocated for local railway crossing safety improvements

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) announced that $161.2 million in federal transportation funding was awarded to 66 cities, towns, and counties in rural portions of Indiana to invest in local road and bridge improvements as well as sidewalk and trail projects. Combined with local funds, approximately $212 million will be invested in infrastructure in communities receiving funds.

The scope and type of projects that received funding include:

  • 27 bridge rehabilitation/replacement projects
  • 31 resurfacing/reconstruction projects
  • 17 Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) projects that include work such as sidewalks, ADA ramps, and trails
  • 6 traffic safety projects

“Indiana is investing in transportation at record levels and that includes more than just our highways,” INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness said. “Our sustained commitment to modernizing local roads and bridges, adding sidewalks, and growing our trail networks sends a clear message that we’re building communities that are primed to attract and retain talent and spur job growth in the 21st century economy.”

The communities that received funding will be the ones to design, develop and purchase land for their projects that will be bid during the fiscal year beginning July 2021. This presents a unique opportunity for roadway construction firms throughout the state as they have plenty of time to get their bid packages in order.

A full listing of the projects and communities that received funding is available here: List of Towns that Received Federal Rural Road Funds 2018

The newly-awarded federal funds are to be used specifically for construction. INDOT will be financially participating in the design, engineering, and right of way acquisition components of these projects. Communities must pay at least 20 percent in local matching funds and meet other federal requirements to receive their portion of the federal funding.

In addition to the federal funds that have been allotted for rural road improvements, the state recently launched a new matching grant program aimed at supporting cities, towns, and counties with their railroad safety projects at intersections that include local roads. The new Local Trax Rail Overpass Program was part of the infrastructure spending bills approved last year and calls for $125 million in state funds to match local funds.

The goal of the Local Trax program is to build safety-focused collaborative efforts between several tiers of stakeholders; namely local municipalities, private firms, and railroad companies. Together, officials are going to identify and pursue safety enhancements, high-priority railroad grade separations, consideration of crossing closures, and other modifications. The end result is expected to produce numerous quality of life improvements and economic benefits in the form of better mobility and fewer hazardous encounters.

During announcements about the new grant program, Indiana Governor Holcomb said, “Local Trax is an innovative approach to infrastructure funding that creates a partnership between the state and communities willing to put skin in the game toward improving their local roads.”

Any Indiana town or county is eligible to apply and there is currently no set maximum grant award. The local match will amount to 20 percent of the total project’s construction and right-of-way costs. INDOT will fund and manage the design fees, as well as managing each stage of the project itself. Applications will be open for grant solicitations throughout this summer, ending in August. Projects will be evaluated based on their hazard index, daily traffic volumes, and other criteria.

All of these investments, for both rural roads and rail crossings, will likely be economically beneficial for Indiana in the way they’ll keep commerce moving more efficiently and spur ancillary investment. Most of these projects involve a multi-layered input of stakeholders, enabling an all-hands-on-deck approach for the upgrades communities need. Hopefully this will be a trend moving forward, as it could be highly rewarding.

Category Features, Logistics