Municipalities wrangle with maintaining streets

2013-09-22T00:00:00Z Municipalities wrangle with maintaining streetsJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

Keeping streets paved and maintained has been anything but smooth sailing for region municipalities in recent years.

Ever tighter budgets and increased asphalt costs have driven some municipalities to become more creative in paying for street paving. It's also caused them to be more proactive to maintain roadways to squeeze every day of life out of them they can.

"We know the roads need to be fixed and repaired. The resources simply aren't there," said A.J. Monroe, Portage's director of public works.

In years past, Indiana municipalities depended on the local road and street fund as the primary financial pocket to pave roads. Revenues to that fund, which is based on the gasoline tax, have declined over the years.

Municipalities have become more creative.

For example, Portage combined stormwater work with repaving of a portion of Central Avenue, a primary east/west roadway through the city. The project costing some $480,000 was paid from Utility Services Board funds. Another approximately $360,000 was cobbled together from various sources to complete other paving projects.

Hobart is spending about $1 million for paving this year, Mayor Brian Snedecor said. About half of that is from casino money and community improvement funds. The other half is a combination of paving and sewer projects funded through the state revolving loan fund.

"Municipalities are now doing more joint projects and stretching the resources as far as they can go," Snedecor said. "We are also doing more preplanning with utility companies, working together as a team, trying to stretch the dollars."

Crown Point is spending about $1 million this year on projects involving paving, City Engineer Tris Miles said.

The projects are a combination of paving roads in the tax increment financing district being paid through redevelopment funding along with stormwater projects.

"Money has been fluctuating year by year," said Miles.

Munster is one of the communities that has taken a different approach.

For at least 20 years, Town Manager Tom DeGiulio said, the town has issued general obligation bonds for paving. Each issue is for a term of four years, allowing the new issue to replace one being retired, thus not having an impact on residents' tax rates.

DeGiulio said the town spends between $1.2 million and $1.5 million a year paving roads. It also uses TIF funds for streets in that district.

"The program has worked out well. We know every year what we have coming," he said.

Crown Point, Portage, Hobart and many other communities are also working hard at maintaining their streets so that they have longer life spans.

Snedecor said Hobart has purchased patching equipment which helps city crews repair roadways on their own. They also use beet juice mixed with their road salt in the winter, which puts less strain on the streets.

"We are always looking, always trying to be more innovative," he said.

In addition, with the recent approval of the Lake County option income tax, Snedecor said he's committed his city's portion to reinvestment in neighborhoods and communities, including maintaining the roadways.

However, they all said that no matter how innovative or creative they become, stretching the dollars to maintain streets is becoming more difficult and they, like most communities, are falling behind on their priority lists of projects.

"We are constantly fighting a losing battle. The projected life of a street is 12 to 15 years. We can never keep up, and it is just going to get worse," said Miles. 

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