By Shawn Washer, P.E. and Russ Romine, ACEC-KY
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently unveiled his priorities for road and bridge projects through the release of the next statewide highway plan. This 250-page document, commonly referred to as the “Six-Year Plan,” identifies projects and project phases totaling $8.6 billion for the six-year period between 2018 and 2024. But, because current state and federal transportation funding is woefully inadequate, only thirty percent ($2.6 billion) of the identified needs have a chance of being addressed.
Roads and bridges are vital to transporting our families, our Kentucky-made products and our safety. Providing a safe and efficient transportation system is among the most essential services that our tax dollars support. But we are falling behind – behind our neighboring states, behind in maintenance and behind in managing congestion.
Additional investment in our transportation system is needed to keep our commonwealth strong and our traveling public safely moving.
A recent economic analysis by Lexington-based Commonwealth Economics found that Kentucky needs a minimum of $554 million in additional annual transportation investment to continue providing a safe and efficient transportation system.
As included in the governor’s recommended plan, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) would place priority on taking care of our existing roads and bridges. That commitment can be seen through the allocation of nearly 50 percent more funding toward bridge repairs and replacements, and 85 percent more toward improving pavement conditions. Under the plan, 340 deteriorating bridges across Kentucky would be repaired or replaced in the first two years, and more than 200 pavement rehabilitation projects would be completed.
Even with this fix-it-first approach, KYTC indicates that more than 660 deficient bridges would remain, and the backlog of pavement repairs would be reduced only slightly.
Kentucky is blessed to be geographically located in the heart of America, and we believe our best days are ahead. But to reach our full potential, we must adequately invest in our people and in a safe and efficient transportation system.
The time to act is now. Delaying investment will only drive up costs, cause our bridge and pavement backlogs to grow, and put us further behind our competitor states—many of which have already increased their investment in infrastructure.
Furthermore, with the recent release of his infrastructure proposal, President Trump signaled that state and local governments should expect to shoulder a larger share of the cost to fix our nation’s infrastructure. States able to allocate more funds toward infrastructure will fare better as they compete for a smaller share of federal participation through a competitive grant process.
There is no shortage of transportation infrastructure needs across Kentucky, and there should be no expectation that our current level of investment will enable us to meet those growing needs.
That’s why we have joined the Kentucky Infrastructure Coalition. This coalition is made up of transportation advocates and other transportation trade associations, but also includes manufacturers, farmers, local leaders and others who understand that safe, reliable, efficient transportation is essential to Kentucky’s economy and our most valuable resource, our people.
Our elected leaders in the Kentucky General Assembly need to provide adequate revenues for all modes of transportation so our state can maintain the infrastructure we have today, plus build what we need for our future.
Shawn Washer is with the engineering firm HDR in Paducah and is the current president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Kentucky (ACEC-KY). Russ Romine is executive director for ACEC-KY. ACEC-KY is a nonprofit membership organization comprised of 85 engineering firms employing more than 2,500 people across Kentucky.