News and Tribune

Clark County

July 5, 2010

Indiana’s bad bridges focus of a new campaign for more transportation spending

There are more than 4,000 deficient or obsolete bridges in the state

INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s deteriorating bridges and roads are the focus of a new media campaign designed to create political pressure to find a fix for a federal highway program teetering on insolvency.

The campaign, slated for kickoff on Wednesday, is backed by a coalition of labor and industry leaders pushing Congress to spend billions on the nation’s aging infrastructure, creating thousands of jobs along the way.

Dubbed “Build Indiana 2010,” the campaign will feature billboards with an image of one of the 4,111 bridges in Indiana that have been rated “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” by the Federal Highway Administration.

It’s an intentionally unnerving image, said Frank DeGraw, an Indiana officer with the Laborers International Union of North America, which is funding the campaign.

“We don’t need another Minnesota here in Indiana,” said DeGraw, referring to the 2007 collapse of a Minnesota bridge that had been rated “structurally deficient” two years before it fell, killing 13 and injuring 145.

“If it had been up to me, the billboards would say: ‘You made it across this time. You better call somebody to fix this bridge,’” DeGraw said.

The Build Indiana 2010 campaign is part of the Laborers International Union’s Build America 2010 public campaign first launched in Colorado in June. It’s expected to spread to other states soon. Among the union’s allies in the effort are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and industry associations representing construction companies and suppliers.

The effort is in response to a slowdown in the construction industry brought on by the recession and only temporarily buoyed by federal stimulus spending.

Most of the Laborers International 500,000 members are construction workers, and many remain unemployed, DeGraw said. Union leaders hope the media campaign will mobilize union members to create public support for more federal spending for infrastructure improvement.

There’s a need for it in Indiana, according to a recent report issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It says that 29 percent of Indiana’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 25 percent of its bridges fail to meet federal standards for safety.

The fix isn’t easy, though. It would require Congress find new revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, the pocket of money that pays for infrastructure repair with federal gas taxes.

Since gas tax revenues haven’t kept pace with the amount of money doled out of the fund through a complicated formula that gives some states more money than they’ve paid into the fund, it’s required Congress to come up with a series of short-term bailouts to keep the fund solvent.

One solution would be to raise the gas tax — not a politically palatable option in an election year, said David Miller, a spokesman for the Laborers International. 

So the job of the Build Indiana campaign is to make finding a source of revenue, no matter what it is, more palatable.

DeGraw says the message of the campaign will be a simple one: “We need to put people back to work, fixing an infrastructure that’s falling apart. You can’t tell me that we can come up with a way to bail out the banks, but not find the money to put Americans back to work.”

— Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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