Getting To The Bottom Of Indy’s Pothole Palooza

The sorry condition of our city’s streets is old news to residents and an unpleasant surprise to visitors. The wild swings in our winter weather— 20 degrees one day, 50 the next—are murder on roadways, it’s true. But that’s only one cause of this perpetual problem.
Illustration by Curt Merlo

On his way home to Arden from a Pacers game in late January, Michael Snodgrass was driving north in the right lane of the Meridian Street bridge over White River when he hit a pothole he’d noticed just a few days before that was now hidden by fog. In a jaw-clenching instant, he knew his right front tire was a goner. What he didn’t expect the next morning was running into so many other people at the local Discount Tire store who shared his fate. “Seven people have already come in who hit the same pothole,” a store clerk told him. Two days later, Snodgrass returned to photograph the 10-inch-deep crater to file a claim and found AAA servicing two more cars there. “By then, there were cops there, too,” Snodgrass recalls—to warn other motorists. “One was behind the two cars that were stranded, and one was parked behind the pothole.” Road crews had circled the still-unfilled menace with green paint.

By the start of February, officials in the Department of Public Works knew they were dealing with an early and nasty pothole season. Throughout Marion County, the department had received 3,428 pothole complaints by the first of the month, 714 more than at the same time in 2023. Crews had already filled 19,791 holes using 262 tons of cold mix. DPW Director Brandon Herget was hopeful that warming weather would end the freeze-thaw cycle that tears asphalt apart. Year-round, he says, the department’s 170 road crew employees work 10-hour shifts seven days a week to combat the problem. Crews rely mostly on citizen complaints to identify the most dangerous spots.

If you agree #indyroadssuck (to use social media vernacular), don’t put all the blame on the city-county government. For years, Indianapolis and Marion County have been shortchanged by a state funding formula that favors rural over urban areas. The state distributes revenue from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to counties based on “centerline” miles, or the length of the roads, regardless of the number of lanes or the amount of traffic they get. So a quiet two-lane road in rural Union County gets as much state funding per mile as Keystone Avenue. Herget estimates a fairer state formula based on actual usage would add $49 million to the city-county’s $89 million road maintenance budget, more than doubling the $30 million state contribution expected for 2024.

Indiana has the fourth highest gas taxes in the United States (68.19 cents per gallon), behind only California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, according to the American Petroleum Institute. But some experts say all that money is not being put to good use. The maintenance projects of our state thoroughfares and interstate highways—the responsibility of the Indiana Department of Transportation—ranked 48th in cost efficiency in 2020 (the most recent year for which statistics are available at press time), according to the Reason Foundation, a libertarian tax watchdog. Reason calculated that Indiana spent more than twice as much per mile ($32,316) on repairs and repaving than what it should have reasonably cost ($15,938) based on traffic volume and weather conditions. INDOT officials say those numbers are inaccurate, while Reason counters that they used data submitted by INDOT themselves to the Federal Highway Administration.

When asphalt cracks reach down to the underlying foundation, the street has officially “failed” and needs repaving, not just patching up. DPW repaved 72 more lane miles in 2023 than in 2022, thanks largely to the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law the president championed. The bill provided $25 million for road improvements from 38th StreettoI-70. But many, many more miles of repaving remain.

Herget says city-county officials have asked the state legislature for a more reasonable road funding formula that accounts for traffic. But it won’t be easy persuading a Republican governor and a Republican legislative supermajority to give a break to motorists in the Democratic stronghold of Marion County. A decision based purely on economics would favor Marion County, the state’s chief engine for economic growth, says Kevin DeGood, a transportation expert at the nonpartisan policy think tank Center for American Progress. “Instead, it’s a problem of political economy. You’ve got a largely blue city in an otherwise deep red state. There’s no political incentive for Republicans to prioritize maintenance and repair inside of Indianapolis.” Even so, City-County Councilor Dan Boots urges voters to contact the Republican leadership in the Senate and House in support of a more equitable formula. You can contact the Indiana House of Representatives at 317-232-9600, 800-382-9842, or 800-382-9842; your Indiana State Senator at 317-232-9400 or 800-382-9467; or at

TECHNICALLY, THE CITY COVERS TIRE DAMAGE. Motorists can report a pothole and file a claim for pothole damage by calling 317-327-4622 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday 8 a.m.– 5 p.m. But don’t get your hopes up. The city-county paid out just six of 364 claims in 2023.