MUNCIE, Ind. (April 4, 2016) – For nearly two decades, the City of Muncie has wanted to transform a portion of Wheeling Avenue, which flows into the heart of downtown.
“Yeah, long time,” Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said.
And for a majority of that time, nearly $1 million in federal money has been sitting and waiting. The project isn’t the only one that has stalled. In fact statewide, tens of millions of dollars in unused transportation money will soon expire.
The money is part of federal earmarks more than a decade old, initially promised and set aside by Congress to local Indiana cities. It has never been spent.
“Most of the projects were not requested by INDOT,” Will Wingfield said, an INDOT spokesperson. “They were requested by local agencies or other leaders long ago.”
According to the Federal Highway Administration, $21.1 million earmarked for three dozen projects across Indiana have never even started, projects lobbied for by Indiana’s congressional delegation including then Congressman Mike Pence.
Those earmarks include millions of dollars in Central Indiana earmarked for projects in Delaware, Madison, Hamilton and Shelby counties.
Federal officials said another $52.5 million remains from projects that have some initial or minor work started.
“Earmarks never fully fund a project,” Wingfield said. “At the very minimum, there’s a 20 percent matching funds that need to be provided. And many of the agencies that initially requested these don’t have the funds available, or maybe the project isn’t available.”
Last month, the Federal Highway Administration announced it will allow states to redirect those funds to other nearby projects within 50 miles of the original earmark, along with other guidelines.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for state and local governments to work together to identify their needs heading into the next 30 years,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “I encourage these leaders to identify innovative projects that reconnect their local communities and increase access to jobs, education, and basic services.”
INDOT officials are now working with municipalities to see if the local matching funds that are available are actually needed, and whether the original earmarked projects can begin in time.
“With the tax caps that are in place in state of Indiana, and the state really not wanting to put together a long-term funding plan for infrastructure, these federal dollars are extremely, extremely important to us,” Tyler said.
Congress no longer allows earmarks like this.
INDOT has until the end of fiscal year 2019 to reserve and secure the funds. All the money must be spent by 2024.
“Overall we’re going to work with the communities that requested them originally,” Wingfield said. “And try to identify if the original project is not still a priority, to find some other project in that same community that is.”