RICH JAMES: Indiana needs more salt, plows in use

2014-02-05T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Indiana needs more salt, plows in useBy Rich James nwitimes.com
February 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

There is no better critic of a state's interstate highways than those who drive them the most — the truckers.

Some over-the-road drivers weren't very kind a couple of weeks ago when they spoke about Indiana’s highways in the wake of another snowstorm across the Midwest.

And rightly so.

Truck driver Shelly Vanscyoc, of Akron, Ohio, was interviewed at the Petro Stopping Center in Gary. Her comments were typical.

“I drive all over,” Vanscyoc said. “Everyone’s roads are up to par except for Indiana.”

Trucker Wayne Kruger said driving from Ohio into Indiana is “like night and day.”

It is the same old story, snow after snow. Indiana doesn't measure up when it comes to snow removal and highway maintenance.

I’m not talking about the pileup that killed three people on Interstate 94 outside Michigan City two weeks ago. That was a rare occurrence caused by a sudden, blinding band of lake-effect snow.

In terms of highway maintenance — or the lack thereof — the recent closure of Cline Avenue because of a plethora of potholes, shows the neglect.

And while the situation wasn't as severe, driving portions of U.S. 30 in Schererville and Merrillville the past two weeks was like traversing a minefield of potholes.

I don’t know what it’s like driving from Ohio into Indiana, but I can attest to coming into Indiana from Illinois on Interstate 80/94.

During a snow, the interstate on the Illinois side is in pretty good shape. The Indiana side looks like an orphan in need of a home.

When the Indiana Department of Transportation is confronted with complaints about a lack of attention in this corner of the state, officials go on the defensive.

They talk at length about the amount of money INDOT pours into this area.

For example, Karl Browning, the INDOT commissioner, spoke recently in response to U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s criticism of the state for not rebuilding the Cline Avenue Bridge.

Browning’s answer was the state has invested $450 million in Lake County highways since 2006.

That’s all well and good, but …

While we appreciate whatever attention the state gives us, standing behind the millions the state sends up here isn't good enough. The issue, which involves lives and property, is more complex.

I wrote a column a while back bemoaning the poor snow removal effort on the Indiana side of I-80/94 compared to Illinois.

Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke to the issue when we met a couple of weeks later.

Daniels said the state had its full complement of plows out during that storm.

INDOT has said the same thing in reaction to the same criticism in recent weeks.

Perhaps we've found the cause of the problem. Indiana, it would appear, needs more salt and plows. This really isn't rocket science.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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