FORT WAYNE – Fort Wayne might have some of the worst roads in the country, but officials say that won’t be the case for long.
TRIP, a transportation research group, issued its annual TRIP Report on Thursday, showing one-third of major roads in the Fort Wayne and South Bend urban areas are in poor condition, costing area drivers more than $500 each year in additional vehicle operating costs.
The Fort Wayne urban area ranked 18th worst among 62 mid-sized cities in the percentage of roads in poor condition, at 32 percent, and 20th worst in the annual cost to motorists from driving on rough roads, at $530, according to the report.
The South Bend urban area ranked 14th for roads in poor condition at 34 percent.
But officials in Fort Wayne question the numbers.
Administration officials point out the numbers are for urban areas, which include surrounding counties. Their statistics show that 14 percent of roads within the city limits are in poor condition.
City Councilman Tom Smith, R-1st, who has argued forcefully for more spending on roads, said the report appears to be a way to gin up support for more construction spending. He said he does not believe the report.
“Unless they’re tied in to people who sell asphalt and concrete, I would have never even conceived of (those numbers),” Smith said. “I just don’t believe that, frankly.”
The TRIP website says the group “is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction and labor unions.”
Whether the number is 14 percent or 32 percent of roads that need work, officials know Fort Wayne’s roads are rough.
Years of declining gas tax revenue – which pays for road work – have left the city with an estimated $60 million backlog of road projects. That backlog was key to a decision in June to raise the local income tax from 1 percent to 1.35 percent, enabling the city to spend an extra $8 million on road work next year.
“We’re going to spend the most ever on concrete streets and, if not the most ever than close to it, on asphalt streets,” public works spokesman Frank Suarez said.
The city plans 50 miles of asphalt resurfacing, 10 miles of concrete street reconstruction, repairs to brick streets and dozens of other improvements next year.
“It’s like those things that say we’re the ugliest city or whatever,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to a new study saying Fort Wayne has the most aggressive street program in America.”