Manufacturers may not make it

April 2, 2018
Poor roads and bridges could hamper economic development in Indiana

About the author: Wilkins is executive director of TRIP, Washington, D.C.


Indiana’s prosperity depends largely on the ability of its highway system to continue serving the transportation needs of its manufacturing sector, according to a new TRIP report. Yet congested urban highways and deteriorated roads and bridges statewide could stall Indiana’s economic growth.

The TRIP report, “The Road to Economic Development in Indiana: An Analysis of Indiana’s System of Highways, Roads and Bridges to Facilitate Economic Growth,” released at a March press conference in Indianapolis, finds that nearly a third of Indiana’s major roads are substandard, while nearly a quarter of the state’s bridges are deficient. In Indianapolis, traffic delays have quadrupled since 1990. Today, it takes approximately 26% longer to complete a trip in the Indianapolis region during rush hour than off-peak hours.

Also, the average Indiana motorist now pays an additional $258 annually in extra vehicle operating costs driving on roads in need of repair. These additional costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional routine repairs, increased fuel consumption and accelerated tire wear.

The TRIP report received extensive local news coverage, including network television affiliates in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis news talk radio and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

Maintaining and improving Indiana’s highway system is critical to the state’s economic future because Indiana’s manufacturing sector, which relies on highways to move goods and people, plays a larger role in Indiana’s economy than many other states. The share of manufacturing jobs in Indiana is 77% higher than the national average, and these jobs offer a higher rate of pay than jobs in other sectors of the state’s economy. Indiana’s manufacturing sector accounted for approximately 586,000 jobs in 2003 in the state—20% of statewide salaried employment—compared to a national average of 11%. The state’s manufacturing jobs also pay, on average, more than jobs in other sectors of the state economy. Indiana’s manufacturing sector provided 28% of the wages paid to employees in Indiana in 2003, more than double the national average of 13%.

Many of Indiana’s fastest growing manufacturing companies cite improved highway access and efficient travel as important factors to their success. In two recent reports prepared for the Indiana Department of Commerce, the most critical variables determining whether Indiana companies prosper, expand or locate in the state are access to skilled employees, the quality of the transportation system, particularly of highways, access to capital and business costs.

Indiana’s suburban roads are under increasing strain, however, as the state’s population is rapidly suburbanizing. The state’s suburban roads have become outdated because they were not built to handle the high level of traffic they are now serving. Vehicle travel in Indiana increased 35% from 1990 to 2002, according to the TRIP report. Total vehicle travel in Indiana is forecast to jump another 58% by the year 2025.

While Indiana’s roads and bridges still provide motorists with a high level of mobility, it is urgent that improvements be made now to accommodate future travel needs, or all those manufacturing jobs may start crossing the state line.