Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials are touring the commonwealth looking to develop partnerships with county leaders for road work that leads to or sustains jobs and job growth. KYTC Secretary Greg Thomas visited Marshall County on Monday as part of his listening tour inviting input from local officials on infrastructure needs.
Thomas said in addition to addressing safety issues, the cabinet is looking for road work that leads to or sustains jobs and job growth. “Typically, we find two or three areas in each county where we can help,” he said.
Judge/Executive Kevin Neal said county work over the past three years has focused on addressing unforeseen weather circumstances and replacing bridges. He also mentioned yet-to-be-announced economic development initiatives that involved discussion with KYTC. Neal said he hopes to make an announcement soon.
One of the projects KYTC officials looked at in Marshall County involves a project widening Benton's 5th Street to four lanes from downtown to I-69. The $4.4 million project is estimated to be complete in fall 2019.
To pay for the projects, Thomas said the governor has discretionary funds authorized every biennium. “We have a discretionary fund that’s available. We have rural secondary municipal programs - 80/20 for instance. Of course, all that funding is constrained. But the idea is to find the critical roads in need of repair and also roads that either lead to jobs or sustain jobs,” he said.
The legislature last spring approved in Road Fund appropriation for the Rural Secondary Program $154,134,600 in FY 2018-19 and $154,578,600 in FY 2019-20. Also in the bill is a continuation of Flex Funds and 80-20 Bridge Replacement Programs within the Rural Secondary Program.
Thomas expects the process to have fairly quick turnarounds of a week or two. “We’ll go and develop a list of their needs and we’ll have our district engineers score those roads and make sure and vet that with the county judges - working in collaboration there - to determine what the most significant needs are for the counties. From there, then, we look at our funding and our resources and see how best to meet those needs.”
Thomas said he believes legislators are looking at raising the gas tax to address funding issues. He said looking at needs going forward, which includes seven to eight billion in unfunded, critical jobs. Add to that two mega-bridge projects: I-69 Ohio River Bridge in Henderson and the Brent Spence Bridge in Covington would be another $680 million that would need to be found somewhere. “If we don’t address these needs in an overall method then at some point the road fund is going to be in dire straits” in the next few years, he said.
"If we're going to continue to support jobs, then we need to invest in infrastructure. From a statewide perspective, it's important for folks to know that more revenue for the road fund equals more jobs and more that these critical bridges are repaired and our pavements addressed and we can just build on what the governor's been able to accomplish,” Thomas said.
Thomas has so far visited between 10 to 15 counties. Between visits in Marshall County, Thomas and other KYTC representatives met with other judge/executives in the region and shared local and regional concerns about paving costs and how the cabinet can help with economic development.