Opinion: Bridge Maintenance and the City, County

Fourth Street bridge over Spy Run Creek,
one of the bridges needing repairs in the City.

Another week, another bridge discussion.

Yesterday, there was another meeting on how to finance bridge maintenance in Allen County. This situation has really gone from bad to even worse and has no signs of improving. Mayor Tom Henry and his administration was notably absent from the meeting. In an interview with Indiana News Center, Mayor Henry stated: “The Deputy Mayor, in studying the issue and talking to the different department heads, felt that for the time being the county needed to meet pretty much on their own.”  What is letting them meet on their own going to accomplish? What value did not attending the meeting provide, other than getting the Commisioner’s dander up and providing more fodder for the finger pointers.  

The County has made it clear that they’ve washed their hands of paying for bridge maintenance. The problem is how it is going to be paid for from this point forward – pure and simple. We can argue until the cows come home over whether or not the County should have done this or that, or the genesis of the crisis, but it is and will remain to be a public safety concern. Not today, not tomorrow, but at some point, bridges will begin to fail and where will we be then? I’ll tell you where, in the creek because we spent too much time arguing and politicking back and forth over arcane issues.

Mayor Henry has been in office coming up on a year and already he’s throwing in the towel? To simply not attend a meeting or at least have a “presence” at, could have been throwing away a golden opportunity. Let me explain what I mean by that. Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to attend many events, press conferences and such for coverage on this blog. There have been many times it would have been easy to blow something off and simply not go. However, almost every time I attend something that I had those thoughts about, I am later glad I went because something inevitably happens. I make a new contact, I learn a new fact, or I am pleasantly surprised and have a genuinely good time. This same principle can be applied to last night. You never know when something might be said or happen that could be the spark to solving the problem. If you don’t go, you won’t know. To not attend, will Mayor Henry be able to say when that first bridge collapses that he and his administration did everything humanly possible to avert the tragedy?

Ok, so I’m being over dramatic. However, a list was circulated to the Fort Wayne City Council a short time ago. This list was entitled Bridge Cost Summary for the year ending 2016. On this list were 21 bridges inside the city that were listed with a “Year Needed” of 2007 or 2008. No indication of what the money was for – i.e. repairs or inspections or maintenance. This was mentioned by City Councilman Tim Pape in the October 21, 2008 City Council meeting. I haven’t checked with anyone recently to learn if the City discovered the details of this list or exactly what was indicated by the list.

My point with this list and this whole back and forth is that we’ve seen the speed with which the City and County tend to work with each other. Look at the 9-1-1 consolidation that has been talked about for years with still no end in sight. Obviously in the bridge maintenance situation, the County is so entrenched in their decision to no longer fund bridge maintenance that they are not going to change their mind. Whether they should have approached it differently, whether they should now take up the maintenance again, whether or not they should just go ahead and increase the wheel excise tax – enough.

The City Council has been very realistic in dealing with the budget crisis as propelled by House Bill 1001. They have been very critical of the Administration’s perceived belief that the next legislative session will see changes to HB1001. And yet, this same argument can be made in regards to the County’s abdication of responsibility for the bridge maintenance. Every day this goes on with no one working out a way to rectify the situation and work out funding brings the City closer to a tragedy waiting to happen. The leadership principles so often talked about in the recent budget hearings by Councilman Pape apply in this situation as well – the City is not immune to them.

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  1. I believe that Mayor Henry is correct on this. Our county commissioners have gone out on a limb (the ONLY county in Indiana to do so) in an attempt to convert another tax-supported government funtion into a fee financed service – so they can say, “We have reduced property taxes”.
    But then they push an unnecessary, out-of-sight expensive, road over waste sludge saying, “We can’t tell Washington we don’t want them to return (after paying the DC collection fee) some of our federal taxes to our area – as per Mr. Peters – “If we don’t get it, someone else will”.
    That’s his idea of fiscal conservatism which is the Jackass Party’s way of doing business.

  2. Stephen,

    I couldn’t disagree more. The city has absolutely no responsibility for bridge maintenance so the mayor should not be involved in the discussion whatsoever. Every second the mayor spends in those meetings gives the county more and more reason to think the city will bail them out.

    This is a county-created problem and they must fix it. If they won’t, and I suspect you’re right that they won’t, then the city should ask the state legislature to amend the state code.

  3. Hi Jeff and John,

    I guess that’s partly what irks me about this. Does anyone know for sure that bridges are solely the County’s responsibility? I’ve asked several government officials from both the City and County and no one seems to be able to provide a clear cut answer. I’m not trying to be a smart a** about this either, I’d really like to know a clear cut answer on this.

    To me, leadership is first figuring this out, and if it proves to be that there is a statute somewhere that says it’s the County, then take them to court or get the legislature involved. If you can’t go that route, then get the legislature involved anyway.

    Whatever the course that’s needed, doing NOTHING is not the answer. Push the County to give a final answer and then take them to court or get the legislature involved.

    The fact that the County diverted funds dedicated to bridge maintenance would seem to be grounds for some sort of legal action.

    I just don’t want to see this go the way that these things seem to go when the two are involved, i.e. 9-1-1 consolidation.



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