It’s a popular conception that Indianapolis disproportionately benefits from the state’s largesse. For roads at least, I can tell you this was historically certainly not the case. I specifically analyzed several of the states previous spending programs, and the Indianapolis area was always well below the statewide average in per capita expenditures. Most of the Indianapolis interstate system is pretty much unchanged from the day it was built. Hamilton County, by far the fastest growing in the state for some time, has received little to nothing in state highway funds historically.
The Major Moves program appears to be changing that. I haven’t done any per capita spending analysis on this program. But it represents a major investment in the Indianapolis roadway system by any measure. Here are the major freeway projects included:
- Widen I-465 on the west side (11 miles) – already under construction
- Widen I-465 and a portion of I-69 in the northeast corridor (10 miles)
- Widen and upgrade US 31 to a freeway in Hamilton County (12 miles)
- Widen I-65 in Boone County (12 miles)
- Widen I-70 in Marion and Hancock Counties (13 miles)
Add this up and it represents almost 60 miles of interstate widened during the course of the program, more than enough to circle the loop. This is very impressive. What’s more, it fixes almost all of the high priority roadways in the area. There are really only three freeway segments left that could use widening:
- I-69 in the northeast corridor (A priority)
- I-65 from I-465 south to Franklin (B priority – most of this already being studied and to start shortly after Major Moves in 2016)
- I-465 @ I-65 on the northwest side, and from 86th St. to US 31 (B priority)
The cost of all of these programs is less than the Major Moves projects. If these get done shortly afterwards, Indianapolis would have the makings of a first class freeway system. In short, Major Moves is getting the city over half the way there. Impressive.
The surface street network is not being neglected. Major projects include:
- East Washington St. from I-465 to Cumberland – already under construction. This project had been on the books since the 1980’s with no movement.
- Pendleton Pike from I-465 to Post Rd. – already under construction
- SR 32 from Spring Mill Rd. to the White River – already under construction from Spring Mill to US 31
- Meridian St. (SR 135) in Johnson County south to Bargersville
- Rockville Rd. from I-465 west to Transfer Dr. This project is only a small start at the $200+ million required to upgrade Rockville all the way through Avon, however.
- Michigan Rd. from 121st St. to SR 32
Again, this is a good chunk of the state arterial network that needs upgrading.
Of course there is always an infinite demand for projects, but the Major Moves program is going to wipe out a gigantic portion of the deficit in roadway projects needed in the Indianapolis area. Given that its low congestion is one of the huge selling points of the city, maintaining that advantage is critical. The only real problem with Major Moves is that will not fix I-69. That’s a major miss to be sure, but considering everything else that is being done, it is clearly looking to be a big positive for the city.
The biggest risk is that the Indianapolis programs are backloaded into the plan. So there is serious financial and political risk to these projects. The city certainly should not count its chickens yet, but maintain the pressure to ensure these projects get done as scheduled and as promised.
Beyond the highway investment, there are a couple of other major infrastructure programs going. The airport is about to open a new $1.1 billion mid-field terminal. This replaces a clearly deficient facility and is shaping up to be a solid project. With I-70 depressed and relocated as part of the recent reconstruction, the way is also clear to add a third runway if needed. This airport is in great shape.
And the city is planning to spend $1.6 billion to comply with the Clean Water Act and significantly reduce combined sewer overflows. While some of the user benefit of this investment is modest, and the environmental benefits are probably not justifiable on a purely cost/benefit basis, nevertheless this offers the opportunity to clean up our waterways and significantly reduce flooding in several neighborhoods.
Major Moves, the airport terminal, and the sewer project represent billions in infrastructure improvements for Indianapolis. There’s always more to be done, but for the state highway system, the sewer system, and the airport, state and local leaders are figuring out how to largely stay current with the region’s needs.