It’s a problem facing many of America’s smaller cities and towns. Their infrastructure is decaying, but budgets don’t always allow for improvements. That’s why a grant program from the state of Indiana is a boon to the city of Terre Haute, Ind., and its residents.
Marcus Maurer, who’s been with the city for 13 years, said the Community Crossings grant will make roads safer for motorists.
In a December 2020 statement, Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana Department of Transportation announced award funding to over 200 cities for this purpose. The Indiana Department of Transportation provides a 50/50 cost split for the city to complete this project. This project includes work to the old interurban train tracks and street-based repairs such as paving, digging and striping.
According to Maurer, old roadways are a legacy of yesteryear when downtown Terre Haute was more of a destination.
“We’ve got a few stretches of road that we’ve fixed,” he said. “We have the old interurban lines, the old streetcar lines that were here from the turn of last century. There were rail lines down the streets. During World War II, they came in and took the rails for scrap iron and left wooden ties on our streets. This led to some of the worst potholed roads we have in the city, as the wood rots away.”
The problem only got worse with time, and Maurer said public sentiment indicated that a project like this had to be prioritized. In his words, “we didn’t even know (these materials) were under old streets, until one day we started getting complaints about how terrible the rough roads are. And then you know, within a year or two after the initial complaints, the roads were just literally almost not drivable.”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, situations like the one in Terre Haute are more than just nuisances. It’s deeper than that. Per its website, economists argue prioritizing infrastructure in the 20th century set the stage for the nation’s robust growth in the decades following World War II.
They also cite comments from engineer and historian Henry Petroski, who made the case that poor infrastructure can come with significant economic costs. “In addition to the threat to human safety of catastrophic failures such as bridge collapses or dam breaches, inadequately maintained roads, trains, and waterways cost billions of dollars in lost economic productivity,” the CFR’s website states.
Though President Joe Biden has rolled out a sweeping plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, it’s still a matter of approval and timing. There’s a sense of urgency in America’s cities and towns, and Terre Haute is among them.
“That was a lot to bite off for local funds,” Maurer said. “Our paving program would just be taking care of one or two streets a year at that rate. So, we’ve looked to use this Community Crossings grant to make that go further. And it’s been a big plus for us.”
According to Maurer, in addition to the matching nature of the program, it also helps that the city has received this type of funding before from the state. He said Terre Haute started road work in earnest in 2017 with a focus on other urban projects. He said it’s only a matter of time before city officials and workers modernize the city’s infrastructure and make the roads safer for all stakeholders.
“Hopefully, within the next couple of years, we will be done removing some of these wooden ties, at least in the areas where they showed their head,” he said.
Speaking of timeline, Maurer said the city will have two years from when funding was awarded to complete the work, but he notes work is currently ahead of schedule.
“We knock those out really quickly because the streets were going downhill quickly,” he said. “And we wanted to make sure that the major thoroughfares were covered, as they were in really bad shape. And we couldn’t repave them because we needed to take out what was underneath them. And so, we were waiting for a way to be able to afford to do it. And this grant allowed for that.” INDOT has stated Community Crossings has awarded more than $930 million in funding since the initiative’s inception in 2016.