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.
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…