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EDITORIAL

First, get the nuts and bolts right

Monday, April 7, 2014 - 8:36 am

Our highways are the corridors of commerce that we depend on.

The first half of the just-ended General Assembly session was consumed by the philosophical disagreement over gay marriage. A lot of the second half was crowded with liberal-conservative debates over such issues as education standards, gun rights and alcohol sales.

But some of the most important activity was some of the least glamorous, the nuts-and-bolts spending that just keeps the state going, such as infrastructure funding. None of the bill signings displayed with great flourish by Gov. Mike Pence were as important as the announcement he made about highway spending.

The Legislature approved $400 million in new highway funding that will be used for the Major Moves 2020 highway construction project, including expansion of heavily traveled sections of four-lane interstates. Half of the money will be spent right away and half will be held back pending a review of the state’s finances in December.

It is estimated the spending will support more than 9,000 jobs for Hoosiers. It should be noted that the “jobs creation” claim for government spending is not always what it seems. Highway construction jobs are temporary, not permanent, and money that is spent by the public sector is not available to the private sector to create jobs.

But highway building is not the only employment enabled by the spending. The highways themselves are the corridors of commerce that the private sector absolutely depends on. As Pence says, “If you’re going to be the Crossroads of America, you have to have the roads to back it up.”

We look to the government first and foremost not for the grand gestures and ambitious excursions but for the basics. If government can’t get the fundamentals of infrastructure right – the streets and highways, the dams and bridges, the simple filling of potholes – we should never trust them with the big stuff.

A brutal, costly winter

Yes, we already know it was a brutal winter. But just seeing the actual cost is sobering, nonetheless. The Indiana Department of Transportation says winter cost them at estimated $57 million, about 67 percent more that the $34 million the agency spent in each of the previous five years. Add in all the extra spending by city and county street and highway departments, and pretty soon we’ll be talking about real money.

Indiana was turned down by the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it requested emergency disaster aid for the record number of January snowstorms. Apparently, it’s easier to calculate whether a disaster’s costs are enough qualify for federal help when it happens all at once, the way a tornado does, rather than being spread out over time.

Funny, it still felt like an emergency to us.