Bridges pose challenges now and later
The closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge and related stories are likely to dominate the news for weeks to come. Meanwhile, other important issues will be squeezed out. Topics that receive scant attention even on a slow news day will get none at all.
I've devoted all or part of several columns this summer to legislative study committees. They usually don't receive much attention - especially this far from Indianapolis - but the topics they address are important nonetheless. In some cases, a committee's work will lead to legislation in the upcoming session. In other cases, committees are considering long-term challenges and possible solutions.
A recent example involves bridges. The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Assessment and Solutions is working to define Indiana's transportation and infrastructure funding shortfall. Bridges were part of the discussion at the committee's first meeting on Aug. 23.
The minutes of that meeting, which are available online, include a report from the Indiana Department of Transportation. The report details the status of Indiana's aging bridges, many of which were built around the same time as the Sherman Minton Bridge, which opened in 1962. Of Indiana's current state-operated bridges, 1,573 were built in the 1960s, compared with 540 in the 1950s and 623 in the 1970s. In fact, Indiana built more bridges in the 1960s than in all prior years combined, and the state hasn't built even half as many bridges in any decade since.
Like the Sherman Minton, many of those bridges have deteriorated, and it will take more and more money to maintain them. As of today, about 13 percent of Indiana's bridges are rated as being in less-than-satisfactory condition. According to INDOT projections, by 2035 that number is likely to increase significantly. If the state spends $100 million annually on bridges, 58 percent of bridges are expected to be less than satisfactory by 2035, according to INDOT's projections. An annual investment of $200 million would reduce that figure to 45 percent - still not a good number. Raising the amount to $300 million a year would improve the number only slightly more, suggesting we face a very expensive problem.
Because of Indiana's Major Moves program, which has been using proceeds from the lease of the northern Indiana Toll Road to fund road projects all around the state, Indiana has increased spending on road construction at a time when most other states have been cutting back. Most of the Major Moves money has been spent, however, and we will have to look for new ways to fund future projects.
In a few weeks, we'll know the extent of the problems with the Sherman Minton. In the meantime, I will continue to stay in close contact with INDOT and local officials and work with them to do everything possible to minimize inconvenience to motorists and the negative impact on local businesses.
There are many other important topics under discussion. The following is a list of upcoming study committee meetings. For more information, go to www.in.gov/legislative and look under "Interim Study Committees" in the menu on the left side of the page. The meetings are open to the public, and most are broadcast on the Internet. If you do not have Internet access and would like to receive information, call my legislative assistant, Clinton Bohm, at 1-800-382-9841. Meetings are at the Statehouse unless otherwise noted:
I've scheduled three town hall meetings for October. In addition to discussing the outcome of this year's legislative session, including the status of various new laws, I'll preview the upcoming session and solicit your opinions and ideas. If you have a position on an issue or a suggestion for a bill, now is the time to voice it. The meetings are scheduled at three different times of day to accommodate varying schedules. All three locations are handicap accessible:
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 13, Purdue Technology Center of Southeast Indiana, 3000 Technology Ave., New Albany (on Charlestown Road at the Interstate 265 interchange, across from Kohl's)
10 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 22, Strassweg Auditorium, New Albany-Floyd County Public Library, 180 W. Spring St., New Albany
House Internship Program
The legislature has paid internships available for college students and recent graduates. I was excited this year to have an Indiana University Southeast student from New Albany intern for me, Aaron Minnich, and I would love to have another intern from our area.
The House Republican intern program offers internships in member services, media, technology and policy. Interns work closely with representatives and experience the legislative process firsthand. The internships start in January and run through the end of the session in March. For more information, visit www.in.gov/legislative/house_republicans/intern2011.html, or contact my office. The House Democrats offer a similar program. Information is available at www.in.gov/legislative/house_democrats/students_interns_2012.html.