By Ed Green
P3 Kentucky Editor
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet released a list of 70 statewide priority projects Monday while announcing that the data-driven list will help guide development of the state’s Highway Plan. The list highlights one of the ways the state is trying to better use it limited transportation dollars on the most important projects.
KYTC’s list was developed over several months to help evaluate more than 1,100 potential projects across the state using the Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow, referred to as SHIFT. The new formula scores projects using data on safety, congestion, asset management, economic growth and cost-benefit ratios. It was developed at the direction of Gov. Matt Bevin as tool to help prioritize transportation spending.
According to a KYTC news release, the cabinet estimates it will spend $2.6 billion in FY 2018-FY 2024 based on current funding sources. The current plan has nearly $6 billion in unfunded transportation projects.
“With limited dollars to spend, we must make wise investments that improve safety for our citizens, increase mobility and drive the state’s economy,” said Transportation Sec. Greg Thomas. “SHIFT is a tool to help us propose a prioritized and balanced Highway Plan to present to the governor and lawmakers.”
The first step in narrowing funding priorities was to identify and rank projects with statewide significance – interstates and highways that move people and goods from one Kentucky region to another and to other states. In coming weeks, local transportation leaders will meet to help set priorities for other construction projects.
Sec. Thomas also announced that the recommended Highway Plan will set aside an additional $205 million annually to repair or replace bridges and roads. Kentucky has more than 1,100 structurally deficient bridges and more than 3,700 miles of roads that need significant repairs.
“We must take better care of the roads and bridges that motorists depend on today,” Thomas said. “The backlog of deteriorating infrastructure is significant and we must invest more resources to preserve our existing system.”
KYTC will combine the state and regional lists this fall to produce a prioritized plan to send to the Governor and legislators to consider in developing the next Highway Plan.
It’s clear from the announcement that transportation funding continues to be a big challenge for Kentucky and that the state’s needs far exceed the amount of funds available for new construction.
This disparity could open the door for discussions about new ways to increase revenue or seek alternative financing for significant projects such as the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge between Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati or the I-69 Crossing in Western Kentucky.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and other advocacy groups have noted Kentucky’s challenge to fund much-needed transportation and infrastructure improvements.
Ashli Watts, vice president, Public Affairs of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, recently wrote for P3 Kentucky that the use of public-private partnerships provide one possible solution.
“However, P3 projects are not the silver bullet in fixing our infrastructure needs,” she wrote. “The Chamber believes that we must look at a comprehensive plan to ensure our transportation system does not crumble. This includes not only utilizing P3, but also raising the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1993, and streamlining permitting for transportation projects so they can be completed in a timely, cost-efficient manner.”