By Ed Green
P3 Kentucky Editor
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin was the closing speaker at last week’s three-day Kentucky Transportation Conference, talking to attendees about the importance of Kentucky’s transportation infrastructure and how the state is attempting to address massive needs to improve it. During the event in Lexington, Bevin shared a broad perspective about the needs that exist and his vision of how Kentucky can realistically address those needs given its tight budget.
The Kentucky Transportation Conference is organized by Kentuckians for Better Transportation, a member of the P3 Kentucky Roundtable.
“One of the things that I’ve been a big believer in is that you’ve got to take care of what you have,” Bevin said. “We’ve not done a good job of that – whether it’s our riverports, whether it’s our airports, or whether it’s our highways and bridges. One of the things that you’ll see in this biennium budget … is that we’re increasing, for example, the amount of money that’s going into bridge repair by 71 percent. We’re putting a billion dollars into that over the next biennium. That’s a lot of money, but we’re doing this because it has to happen.”
The governor noted that Kentucky has more than 1,000 structurally deficient bridges, including 60 bridges that are shut down. “That’s a problem. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing,” he said. “We shouldn’t let things get to that point.”
Bevin highlighted the strengths of the state’s central location and existing assets, pointing to business advantages such as a strong interstate, rail and waterway system. These systems support the nation’s third-largest air cargo industry that includes major players like UPS Inc., DHL Inc. and FedEx. Kentucky will move to No. 1 in that ranking when Amazon Inc.’s Prime Air hub opens in Northern Kentucky, he said.
“Five hundred billion dollars of goods move through our state. There’s a whole lot of material moving to market.”
Kentucky’s challenge, Bevin said, is continuing to prioritize investments in infrastructure that best supports the state’s needs with the funds it has available. During a question and answer session, the governor addressed the state’s fuel tax, which is used to help fund road maintenance and construction but has continued to generate less revenue in recent years.
Bevin said he expects the excise tax to be a topic of conversation by the Kentucky General Assembly during its current session and during discussions about tax reform, but said he’ll advocate that those discussions should be part of a comprehensive plan rather than one-off solutions.
“We do not have enough money,” he said. “We’re going to need more money, and it’s going to come from one source, the taxpayer. That’s where it all comes from … but in what form or what fashion, and in what combination of things will it come. This is going to be a conversation.”