Beshear, McConnell, Comer praise new Paducah airport terminal at groundbreaking ceremony
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Rep. James Comer and others on Wednesday praised the economic and logistic advantages provided by a new Barkley Regional Airport terminal at a groundbreaking ceremony.
Jay Matheny, chairman of the Barkley Regional Airport Authority, said the planned terminal will enable travel in and out of western Kentucky that would have otherwise been done at Nashville’s airport.
The Barkley Regional Airport in Paducah secured for its terminal approximately $43 million in total funding, with $32 million coming from the federal government, $5 million from the state, $6 million from the city and county and $80,000 from the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization.
Beshear at the ceremony said western Kentucky will be made as competitive as every other part of the country thanks to the addition of this terminal.
“This area is primed for incredible growth,” Beshear said. “What we’re doing here today is investing, making sure that anybody can land in this area, go through a first-class terminal and have that incredible first impression that’s going to lead to so many opportunities. The potential has been there for so long, right at our fingertips.”
McConnell said the new terminal is the next essential step after the existing waterways, highways and railways in connecting western Kentucky to the rest of the nation.
“It’s a glorious day and a glorious accomplishment,” McConnell said. “In the case of the federal government, they wanted to piecemeal the money out, and with inflation raging like it is, the cost would continue to mount. We need to lock things in now, so Jamie [Comer] and I intervened, and it’s all in now, ready to be spent.”
Comer said the new terminal will benefit not just McCracken County but the region at large, pointing out the judge-executives from Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle and Ballard counties in attendance.
“This is where everyone in the region should be flying out of,” Comer said. “I believe, with all my heart, when this terminal is built, there are going to be so many more options to fly in and out of this airport. I’m excited about that because I fly commercially in and out of Paducah quite often, and I’m a big fan of this airport.”
McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said the terminal wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of Kentuckians of varying political ideologies.
“What we have here is indisputable evidence that, when we work together as Kentuckians for the benefit of Kentucky, we can do great things,” Clymer said, who made a joke about Beshear and McConnell being from opposing political parties. “We are moving forward in McCracken County, and now, not even the sky is the limit.”
After their remarks, the speakers broke with shovels the ground where the terminal is projected to stand by 2023.
Infrastructure bill commentary
The funding behind the planned airport terminal is unrelated to the bipartisan infrastructure bill to be signed into law by President Joe Biden next week, with $550 billion in new spending. But Beshear, McConnell and Comer highlighted the federal dollars from the infrastructure bill that will be funnelled toward future transportation initiatives.
Beshear, a Democrat, said he looks forward to the investment opportunities facilitated by the bill, noting specifically safety projects around schools and turn lanes. He mentioned how, when he puts his children into a car, they’re traveling on the same roads and bridges that will see improvement.
“The infrastructure bill provides billions of additional dollars to help roads, bridges, airports, public transportation — so many different needs that we have and so many different areas that are deteriorating,” Beshear said.
Comer, a Republican, joined almost all of Kentucky’s congressional delegation in voting against the infrastructure bill. Only McConnell and Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville voted for the bill.
Comer said the expense of the bill and what it will specifically fund motivated him to vote against it.
“I felt like we could get a better deal,” Comer said. “They’re already coming out today with equity broadband, meaning they're going to give waivers to people in the city for broadband. A lot of people had hoped that, in rural western Kentucky, the broadband money would be spent on expanding rural broadband.”
The infrastructure bill allocates $110 billion for roads and bridges and $65 billion toward broadband. $42 billion of the broadband funding will go toward the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. This program primarily intends to deploy broadband to unserved and underserved communities.
In most cases, the entity deploying the broadband — which can be private providers, electric cooperatives and more — must provide a matching contribution of at least 25 percent of broadband deployment costs, but the federal government may waive the requirement at its discretion.