A return of local option income tax funds to Columbus from the state is enabling the city to spend approximately $2.6 million on improvements to local roads.

In an effort to provide more money for statewide infrastructure projects, the state legislature passed a bill during the 2016 legislative session that called for a surplus of LOIT funds to be returned to local governments, with 75 percent of the returned funds required to be earmarked for road work.

For Columbus, that means about $3.3 million was returned to the city, with $2.5 million required to go toward infrastructure improvements.

However, the city plans to use a little more than the required 75 percent of the returned money for road work, bringing the total portion of the LOIT funds designated for roads to about $2.6 million. Columbus City Council members gave initial approval for the appropriation of those funds at their meeting Tuesday.

Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer, said the city’s current budget allocates a little less than $1 million for road repaving this year, an amount he said would not go very far. However, the additional $2.6 million from the state will enable the city to complete more repaving and other infrastructure improvements projects than the budget would have otherwise allowed, he said.

In addition to the LOIT funds, another bill passed during the 2016 legislative session established a grant program known as the Community Crossings Grant, which will provide matching funds of up to $1 million for road projects, as long as the local portion of the funding comes from the LOIT return, a rainy day fund or an existing wheel tax, said Jamie Brinegar, city director of finance, operations and risk.

Hayward told council members that he is currently working on an application to receive a match of about $800,000 for improvements to three local roads:

Central Avenue between State and 12th streets

Taylor Road between U.S. 31 and 26th Street

Tipton Lakes Boulevard between Coles Drive and Goeller Boulevard

The Community Crossings Grant is designed to help fund improvements to roads with regional significance, which is why those three roads were selected, rather than smaller local streets, Hayward said.

The total cost of improvements to those roads is about $1.6 million, the city engineer said.

If the grant application is approved, Hayward said the city would be able to use the $800,000 to stretch the LOIT funds further and apply those funds to other, smaller local roads, which will likely cost less to work on than the three larger roads. Hayward also said he was fairly confident that at least two, if not all three, road improvement projects included in the grant application would be approved.

The Columbus Board of Works approved a notice to bidders for the three projects included in the grant application at the board’s meeting Tuesday. Those bids will be due July 12, Hayward told Board of Works members, which means that the city could enter into a contract before hearing back on the matching grant funds. If the grant were to fall through, Hayward said the three projects still could be covered through the LOIT funds.

In addition to the three main road projects, Hayward said the Indiana Department of transportation is urging the city to use the LOIT funds for preventative maintenance work, such as crack sealing.

The city engineer also said his department plans to use the funds to explore new types of road improvements, such as pavement seal coating, microsurfacing and different kinds of overlays.

The council will give final approval for the appropriation of the $2.6 million at its July 5 meeting. The remaining $790,038.39 will be placed in the city’s rainy day fund.

Street project selection

Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer, is currently compiling an application to receive $800,000 in matching grant money to fund improvements to three main roads:

  • Central Avenue between State and 12th streets
  • Taylor Road between U.S. 31 and 26th Street
  • Tipton Lakes Boulevard between Coles Drive and Goeller Boulevard

Those three areas were selected because their needs match the needs of the state Community Crossings Grant program. Going forward, Hayward said he would meet with each city council member to determine which streets need the most attention in their individual districts, then would find ways to use the remaining LOIT funds to improve those streets.

Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.