EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a letter to the editor by Robert Zier, Chief
of Staff, Indiana Department of Transportation
On December 21, Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) LaPorte
District Deputy Commissioner Michael McPhillips attended the Porter County
Commissioners’ meeting to present a statement regarding a maintenance
contract with Porter County concerning the bridge on the Industrial Access
Road over U.S. 12. I am writing this letter to clarify for the public the
misconception Porter County officials have portrayed.
The contract agreement dated September 3, 2003 specifically states each
party’s responsibility regarding the bridge. In that document, the state
agreed to construct the bridge, the city of Portage agreed to maintain the
approaches to the bridge, and Porter County agreed to maintain the bridge
itself after construction. The 2003 contract was signed by the state, the
mayor of Portage and John Evans and David Burrus as Porter County
commissioners. The Porter County auditor also signed the contract as a
witness and the agreement was acknowledged by a Porter County notary public.
A copy of the contract is available for the public to view at
The state fulfilled its part of the contract in 2005 by constructing the
bridge. The city of Portage is fulfilling its portion of the contract by
maintaining the approaches to the bridge. However, the Porter County
Commissioners continually refuse to unequivocally accept responsibility for
maintaining the bridge. Instead, Commissioner John Evans and County Attorney
Gwenn Rinkenberger publicly accused the state of coercing the county into
signing the maintenance contract in 2003, going as far as stating that INDOT
“blackmailed” the county into honoring it. Blackmail only occurs when
someone has done or is doing something wrong. INDOT has not acted
inappropriately but is simply honoring a legal document. Discussions of the
county’s concerns have been ongoing for more than five years. The state did
not coerce the Porter County commissioners; however, the commissioners’
refusal to maintain the bridge per the contract is unacceptable.
Consequently, the state intends to use appropriate means to encourage the
county to do what it agreed to do in 2003.
If Porter County refuses to honor the contract, INDOT intends to notify the
Federal Highway Administration of such conduct and recommend that Porter
County repay all appropriate funds used to construct the bridge. INDOT may
also withhold funding from Porter County that is available for certain
discretionary projects in the future. We are not threatening the county with
these actions. Rather, to ensure INDOT is being a good steward of taxpayer
dollars, INDOT wants to ensure Porter County complies with its
responsibilities. Moreover, if the Porter County Commissioners genuinely
believe that they were coerced into signing the contract by the state, they
have the right to initiate legal action to try to invalidate the contract.
Let me assure the traveling public that at no time was safety of the public
in question. INDOT works very hard with counties and municipalities around
the state to help with local transportation issues and related economic
development activities. Porter County is no exception. Records indicate that
Porter County has received $9.4 million in awarded contracts for county
sponsored projects since 2000 and at least $2.7 million in pending projects
for 2011 depending on the outcome of the county’s action.
I am very disappointed that the Porter County Commissioners have chosen to
handle their “buyer’s remorse” publicly and not directly with INDOT in a
professional manner. I feel the county has taken a poor legal position in
its decision to not honor a signed legal document. Nonetheless, the new year
is rapidly approaching and with it a new commissioner will be seated to the
County Board. We look forward to amicably resolving this matter early next
year in a professional manner.
Chief of Staff
Indiana Department of Transportation