Wow…Indianapolis Is Doing Something Right

A few years ago, my husband and I took a long-planned cruise around South America. Our point of embarkation was Buenos Aires, and we booked a small hotel that had been recommended to us for a few days before setting sail, to see a bit of the city. The street in front of the hotel was being repaved, and we were struck by how Argentinians approached that task –they weren’t “resurfacing” the street by putting a few inches of asphalt over the roadway, they were reconstructing it. We watched as they dug down at least two feet, and carefully prepared the substructure before repaving it (with granite, no less!)

When they were done, they expected it to last many, many years.

I don’t know how other cities in the U.S. approach street maintenance, but as long as I have lived in Indianapolis, I have seen the way our city “fixes” our potholed thoroughfares. City administrations have repeatedly  covered the crumbling substructures with thin coats of asphalt (at the same time confirming the old political adage that “long-term to a politician is until the next election.”)

I have not been all that happy with our city’s current, timid administration (for reasons not relevant to this post), but credit where credit is due: they are actually rebuilding city streets. Properly.

We moved in May to the downtown core, and realized we’d moved into a construction zone; the major thoroughfare running past the exit to our parking garage has been torn up for months. But we’re not complaining, because the City is actually repairing it the correct way–digging down and rebuilding, just like the street repair we’d seen in Argentina.

Now there is news that the city will take that same approach to other, formerly neglected streets in Indianapolis–not just those in the urban core.

As the Indianapolis Star recently reported

Ninety miles of residential streets throughout Indianapolis will get complete makeovers next year through a rare $25 million infusion of cash.

The streets will not simply be repaved, but entirely reconstructed, reflecting a shift in strategy for the Department of Public Works from surface-level fixes to more expensive, but more longterm, deeper fixes.

That “shift in strategy” is more than welcome. Indianapolis–and all of Indiana–has followed the “penny wise, pound foolish” method of infrastructure maintenance for far too long. The usual approach–visually paving over the problem and pretending it’s solved–saves dollars initially, rewarding politicians who then brag about doing more with less while ignoring the fact that those superficial “fixes” cost taxpayers much more over the longer term.

But hey–longer term, most of them intend to be occupying a different/higher position…Leave it for the next guy to deal with.

In all fairness to our short-term politicos–they think they are being responsive to the majority of constituents who insist on government services on the cheap, the citizens who want to drive on smooth roads, visit well-maintained parks, and depend on properly trained and equipped police and fire departments–but who definitely don’t want to pay an extra nickel in taxes in order to support those services.

This attitude is incredibly shortsighted. Not only do the quick fixes require more frequent resurfacing, driving on streets that are constantly pockmarked and potholed due to underlying structural failures causes flat tires and bent rims that those tax-averse citizens end up paying out-of-pocket.

The administration says that funds to do Indy’s streets properly are coming from savings that accumulated during the pandemic, when city departments instituted hiring freezes and cut discretionary spending. Those funds should be augmented by Biden’s massive infrastructure bill, allowing even more repairs.

Proper street re-construction will take more time, and will cause traffic problems, but I for one will be delighted to put up with those inconveniences.

Now, if we could only get our utilities to buy into that longer-term strategy and bury their poles and wires…think of how much money they’d save after the next storm takes their above-grade infrastructure down, causing widespread outages…


  1. They actually ARE burying the electric service in Glendale / Brockton area. Its a good thing too as the electric outages were so bad and frequent that I resorted to purchasing a whole house electrical generator system to keep my house running. Its a mess now but it will be better in the long run for the neighbors

  2. Not casting aspersions on Sheila and Bob but…how long will it take for these wondrous street reconstructions to move from the moneyed areas of this city to where streets are have been in deplorable condition for decades. Our potholes are refilled 2 or 3 times each spring and, as I experienced personally last Sunday with our first snow, the holes had returned on streets I had driven 4 days earlier.

    In the past I have referred to the carefully and fully resurfaced Franklin Road, south of Brookville Road, past the entrances to higher priced housing developments, expensive homes and past the well maintained farms where traffic is low. You have to drive over rough, cracked, patched potholed streets, over a few short patches of repaving in front of businesses to reach that area.

    “The administration says that funds to do Indy’s streets properly are coming from savings that accumulated during the pandemic, when city departments instituted hiring freezes and cut discretionary spending. Those funds should be augmented by Biden’s massive infrastructure bill, allowing even more repairs.”

    I won’t hold my breath here on the east side till we see improvement on, not only side streets, but highly trafficked main streets we must drive to meet our daily needs such as food, medication and materials needed to repair our homes and vehicles.

  3. Not sure about Indy and Marion County but most communities have in-house patching equipment – pothole replacement that they can do. As a result of Ronald Reagan’s introduction to Neoliberalism, the so-called pursuit of ‘outsourcing’ became popular so municipalities shifted major duties to private contractors (who always seem to find migrant workers).

    Also, municipalities used American Rescue Plan monies for road paving projects. They also received a plethora of block grants from the Federal government. If those monies were “savings from other departments,” the obvious question is what projects failed to receive the money?

    Indiana lawmakers are extremely good at ‘interdepartmental transfers’ – budget tricks. I saw a lot of it taking place when I dug into the finances when Dick Mourdock was using his budgetary sleight of hand magic to move around hundreds of millions of dollars. And with the IndyPress not holding them accountable, it’s hard telling what’s been going on and for how long. There is a reason the “parties” want to run the show. Grift, grift, grift.

    There is a reason much of the software is vintage 1970s and 80s. If you can’t track it, you can’t audit it. If you can’t audit it, it isn’t missing. 😉

  4. I’ll never forget the night in the late 90’s when I left a corporate function in Indy and was heading back to my hotel on 82nd Street late in the evening. Before me opened “sea” of potholes that took out two of my tires and bent one of my wheels, requiring a midnight tow. Fortunately insurance covered the bill.

    I recently did some research about road repair and resurfacing and learned that, in Northern Indiana anyway, it costs around $100K per mile to brush and apply 1.5 in. of asphalt on a 2-lane road and $400-$500K to rebuild it from the dirt up, not including stormwater collection or movement of utilities. So, politicians may be spineless but the real issue is taxes.

    I was just thinking about the condition of our roads as I read accounts of how our Governor and General Assembly GQP leaders are slobbering all over each other (ew) to figure out how to cut taxes again. Apply the current budget surplus, which largely occurred due to the American Rescue Plan Act, to improve infrastructure? Nah bro, we’ll use money the Dems shower down on us from passing the Build Back Better Act.

  5. I noticed that the use of alternate road surfaces wasn’t mentioned as you did with your visit to Argentina. As you know, asphalt is petroleum-based. The tar comes from the cheapest and least useable fraction (Frakking) of the oil pumped from the ground. My point is that as long as oil companies pay those politicians who are so short-sighted, nothing will change.

    The “reconstructed” roadways will eventually and quickly revert to what they’ve always been. Those macadam roads that are now full of potholes were made with the same materials as those being used – presumably – for the “reconstruction” and repair. I’m not sure how well granite bricks or slabs would work in a place where ice and snow often make even the most tractable surfaces slick, but it might work. BUT granite is brittle and easily crumbles under stress. Heck, here in Colorado, we have a mountain of granite being bathed in naturally occurring hot springs. The result? Cat litter. I’m not kidding. Granite de-natures into clay when heated.

    Keep your teeth clinched while riding over your roads until a final solution is available.

  6. OOPS! It’s not “frakking”, the correct process is “cracking” – as in cracking the oil into its various, volatile elements.

  7. Vernon, you were right the first time. Fracking is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” which the petroleum industry has been doing for decades to create cracks in rocks with low permeability, so the oil or gas in the pores can flow to the well more quickly. Cracking is a process used to process petroleum in the refineries. Breaking up large molecules into smaller ones, to produce all of the petroleum products that are produced from a barrel of oil.

  8. I have read about the use of old plastics in road resurfacing. If I recall correctly, Norway was one country employing that process. Used tires and those tons of plastic waste that eventually get discarded into our waterways make for an inexpensive construction material that is more resilient than the asphalt currently being used. It is also good stewardship.

  9. I have lived in my home since 1988. Our street has never been repaved. Some of the streets nearby have been but for some reason they have never gotten to our street. Hopefully, they will this time.

  10. A perfect picture of Republican dollars (not) at work was a 12 inch pothole on Midway Road in Rockville Indiana, near my parent’s house that was covered with an old chair to alert drivers unaware, for YEARS!
    They are dead and we have sold the house but I am curious…

  11. A Greek proverb holds “Civilization progresses because old men plant trees under which they will never sit.”

  12. Let me get this straight. The city now has the funds to re-build some of the streets because during the pandemic they instituted a hiring freeze and cut discretionary spending. Some of those savings must have come out of the code enforcement budget because here in my neighborhood we now have an “anything goes” policy that has resulted in large homeless/drug/prostitution camps and junk yards set up on residential lots. What would never be permitted in Meridian Kessler seems to be OK with the current administration when it comes to the east side. Shameful!

  13. I wish Indiana could lead the way and do what Norway is doing. I wonder how streets made of recycled plastic would hold up against snow, ice, and yo-yo temperatures.

    I also wish American engineers/scientists would explore ways to create roads that are not derived from fossil fuels.

    In the meantime, it’s nice to see Indianapolis trying to repair roads in such a way that they are really restored. The historical half measures actually reminds me of the half measures we use to treat addiction due to “managed care” of the insurance companies.

    Now if Indy could only start making concrete roofs green.

  14. Right on, Theresa! We have Zoning Enforcement staff in the Planning & Zoning Division; if they would enforce zoning regulations on the reported violations such as you have in your area and mine; entire neighborhoods would be in better condition. Infrastructure is ignored in low and middle-income neighborhoods where violations are ignored; further lowering real estate values and allowing crime to flourish. Streets and sidewalks in higher income areas of this city are well maintained; are they now going to be reconstructed before other areas are even repaired?

  15. I agree also with two responders here, why are we not using old tires and plastics to make roads, as it is done in Norway?
    My residential street was repaved this summer in Northern Indiana and is already cracking pieces off at the curbs due to thin application. Waste of time and money, in my opinion. Let’s get with the program, let the power players buy stock in the new way to repair roads, and life goes on.

  16. More costly/longer lasting, but, someone needs to pay the taxes to pay for street repairs. Can’t have cities without a solid taxbase, which is something delusional magats can’t seem to grasp.

    Taxcuts for the wealthy won’t cut it, but my be a surer way to get re-elected.

  17. Professor Kennedy, my sister lives in a neighborhood where there are frequent power outages. The neighborhood residents were given a poll asking if they wanted their power lines buried. A majority of residents voted no because they thought the burying would take up too much of their yards. Unfortunate, because my sister is really sick of the outages.

  18. Some of the REC (Rural Electric Cooperative) power cables were buried here in NW iowa. It is almost impossible to locate a cable breakage or other problem underground.

  19. It may be helpful to know that the more expensive homes pay higher taxes and there’s more money to work on the roads.

Comments are closed.