Report on rural roads, bridges to help set repair priorities - Indiana Corn and Soy

Report on rural roads, bridges to help set repair priorities

For many drivers, roads and bridges aren’t noticed until they’re in need of repair. Indiana farmers know that good, reliable roads and bridges provide the access they need to get their harvested crops from their farms to the world around them.

Since 2016, the Indiana General Assembly has taken a number of critical actions to increase funding for the state’s rural roads and bridges. The need for good ongoing conditions, activity and spending data has been a consistent focus throughout these policy discussions. As a result, county agencies have been required to collect conditions data and complete asset management plans in order to access Community Crossings Matching Grant funding.

The Community Crossing Matching Grant program is offered by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to provide state funding to assist county and municipal governments with local road and bridge projects. In 2020, the grant program provided $126.5 million in matching funds to 214 counties and communities.

The Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA) and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council (ICMC) have invested in a series of studies to support the improvement of rural roads and bridges in the state. ISA commissioned a report from the Indiana University (IU) Public Policy Institute to create a template for tracking conditions and progress each year using data newly available in an electronic format. The IU report provides an initial data template, an analysis which uses the template and available data, and recommendations for improvements using the data collection. It’s just the beginning of a system for tracking improvements across the rural road and bridge network.

“Good rural road and bridge infrastructure is critical to efficient farm-to-market movement of agricultural products,” said Mike Koehne, an ISA board member and a Greensburg, Ind., farmer. “This study is a good investment of farmers’ dollars because tracking good infrastructure helps us to move soybeans and corn better in an already competitive market.”

The 43 study counties in the IU report account for 49 percent of the road miles (31,244 of 63,373 miles) managed by the 91 county highway departments in Indiana. There are 12,953 county bridges in Indiana. The counties in this study have 5,244 bridges and 644 culverts for a total of 5,888 structures. The study counties account for 45 percent of local bridges.

Biennial inspections are performed on all county bridges, and inspection results are recorded in the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) database. This is a rolling database. It is updated as inspection data is submitted. The current data includes inspection data principally from 2019 and 2020.

Improved data reporting

Counties are required to submit an annual operations report every year to Indiana State Board of Accounts (SBOA) and Indiana Local Technical Assistance (LTAP) data management portal. In 2019, counties began using a new operations report form approved by SBOA.

This new form establishes a standard format and is expected to improve data reporting across different state agencies. These reports show county revenues and expenditures for highway department operations, including revenues and the mix of spending in broad activity categories and by funding source. Road and bridge expenditures are categorized as:

• Administration

• Construction

• Reconstruction and preservation

• Maintenance and repair

• Winter operations.

Some bridge expenditures are based on the funding source. In 2018, the Indiana General Assembly required that at least 50 percent of road funding is spent on new construction, reconstruction and preservation activities. In 2019, many counties deposited at least 50 percent of their state Motor Vehicle Highway (MVH) funds into a Motor Vehicle Highway Restricted account to ensure the legal requirement was met. The new operation template has a specific place to record this type of information.

The analysis includes annual operations report data for 2018 and 2019 for each study county, including total spending, spending by activity and types of revenues. When possible, revenues and spending are divided between bridge construction and reconstruction.

Asset management approach

Asset management is a systemic approach to managing and distributing revenue to make changes and improvements on a network basis instead of a need basis. An inventory of road infrastructure and conditions is a key component in asset management because it describes condition by individual road segment, which is necessary to make network decisions on treatment options and spending.

The counties studied in the IU report covered 31,244 centerline road miles. The size of the road inventory varies across counties. Kosciusko County has the most centerline miles at 1,163, while Union County has the fewest at 268. Only counties in the most urbanized counties reported changes in the overall inventory. Three counties reported adding miles, mostly due to the development of subdivisions. One county reported a reduction in mileage as the result of municipal annexation.

Counties reported upgrading 80 miles of pavement, such as switching from a gravel road to a chip seal pavement, and downgrading 131.5 miles, going from chip seal pavement to gravel.

In 2019, the average rating for pavements for the 43 study counties was 5.8 points on a 10-point scale. Nearly 95 percent of counties have an average rating above poor. This baseline can be used for evaluating change as conditions data for 2020 becomes available. In 2020, only 0.3 percent of the 43 study counties had bridges that were failing or had elements in imminent failure. There were no culverts in failure or imminent failure.

When consistent investments are made using an asset management network approach, weighted averages should increase through the years. So far, electronic asset management data is available for only one year. A single year of data does not allow the research team to analyze whether the weighted ratings by pavement type are changing. In subsequent years, the team will analyze the change in weighted ratings. The ISA and ICMC-funded 2019 report suggests that weighted ratings generally are improving as the result of additional investments made with expanded fuel taxes.

“The baseline in this report can be used for evaluating change as data for 2020 and 2021 becomes available,” Koehne said. “When consistent investments are made using an asset management network approach, the average rating should improve over time.”

Biennial inspections are performed on all county bridges, and inspection results are recorded in the National Bridge Inventory database. This is a rolling database that is updated as inspection data is submitted. The current data includes inspection data principally from 2019 and 2020.

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