Local leaders outline Kentucky’s infrastructure needs as top legislative priority for 2021

By Hayley Robb, Building Kentucky

In a recent webinar and transportation update hosted by Kentuckians for Better Transportation (KBT), eight local transportation leaders discussed the need for additional funding to spur economic growth and preserve Kentuckians’ quality of life.

“It can be a downtown streetscape project, replacing an outdated rural bridge, or even just seeing a county road that you live on get paved for the first time in 30 years,” KBT Chair Grant Gabbard said. “These smaller, often overlooked transportation projects are vital to keeping our local roads safe and promoting growth and jobs in our local communities.”

Along with Gabbard, local leaders and elected officials shared updates on how additional infrastructure funding could benefit their communities.

Featured speakers included:

  • Kentucky State Senator Morgan McGarvey
  • J.D. Chaney, the Kentucky League of Cities Executive Director
  • Brian Traugott, Mayor of Versailles and Kentucky League of Cities First Vice President
  • Kristin Baldwin, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications for Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
  • Honorable David Livingston, Scott County Magistrate
  • Honorable Dan Mosley, Harlan County Judge Executive
  • Casey Ellis, Owen County Judge Executive
  • Kentucky State Representative Sal Santoro

The Funding Formula

State and local transportation needs are currently funded by the gas tax that is paid when we fill up our fuel tanks. The amount of funding counties get depends on the price per gallon of gas.

Since 2014, gas prices have continued to trend downward meaning transportation funding has also declined by almost $200 million each year.

City spending on streets and roads climbed 35% from FY 2010 to FY 2019, while transportation funding from federal and state government dropped nearly 24%.

State and federal aid now only provides about one-fourth of the monies cities spend on streets and roads, Kentucky League of Cities Executive Director J.D. Chaney said.

“The remainder is covered with taxpayer resources that otherwise would pay for public safety, sanitation, economic development and other investments and services in the quality of life of our communities,” Chaney said.

The current formula for transportation funding is referred to as the “formula of fifths,” which was created in 1948 and has not been updated since its conception.

Mayor of Versailles and KLC First Vice President Brian Traugott argued the formula should be modernized to ensure city and rural roads are placed on an even playing field “ensuring safer, better-maintained roads throughout the Commonwealth.”

Economic Impact on Local Communities

On Nov. 11, two trucks collided on the Brent Spence Bridge with one carrying potassium hydroxide causing a fire that scorched the bridge structure. The bridge was closed for repair and will remain closed until Dec. 23.

Since the temporary closure of the Brent Spence bridge, there’s been a ripple effect on the northern Kentucky region between water traffic closures on the Ohio River to street congestion in downtown Cincinnati.

Kristin Baldwin, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications, said 3% of the nation’s GDP crosses the Brent Spence Bridge annually. With major investments in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and more distribution facilities to come in the next five years, Baldwin argued funding to areas like northern Kentucky will be essential.

“Every time you invest in infrastructure, property values go up, tax revenue goes up, something is built there,” Baldwin said.

She added that there is always a return on investment when you invest in infrastructure.

Investing in Infrastructure

Both Harlan County Judge-Executive Honorable Dan Mosley and Kentucky State Representative Sal Santoro stressed the importance of advocating on a local level. Representative Santoro said he is working diligently to make transportation funding a priority in the upcoming year.

“Contact the governor, contact your senator to tell the president of the Senate ‘Let’s start, let’s get this going,’ that’s what I really need,” Santoro said.

Transportation funding affects every Kentuckian. Whether it’s a dangerous road in eastern Kentucky with a coal truck or school bus on it or a bridge that’s been shut down to commercial traffic in northern Kentucky, Mosley said everyone has a unique transportation situation and story to tell.

“The stories help shape this effort and support it even more,” Mosley said.

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