What are Kentucky’s transportation challenges? Lawmakers discuss funding, pandemic and politics

By Rachel Nix, Building Kentucky

Pictured: Rep. Ken Upchurch, Rep. Sal Santoro, Rep. Joni Jenkins, Sen. Morgan McGarvey.

Multi-modal transportation is critical to economic growth, but Kentucky is investing less than its neighboring states.

Lawmakers from the Kentucky General Assembly participated in a panel discussion during the annual Kentuckians for Better Transportation conference to discuss what’s next in Kentucky’s transportation future.

State Senator Morgan McGarvey (District 19 – Jefferson Co.) and House Representatives Ken Upchurch (District 52 – McCreary, Pulaski, Wayne Co.), Joni Jenkins (District 44 – Jefferson Co.) and Sal Santoro (District 60 – Boone Co.) joined the virtual session moderated by C2 Strategic Communications President Chad Carlton.

Why Does Kentucky Invest Less Than Neighboring States?

Legislators acknowledged that Kentucky’s funding model is out of date and needs retooling. Confusion, a lack of political will and bipartisan support seem to be the biggest barriers.

A proposed gas tax was a frequent topic during the panel. Kentucky has not increased its fuel taxes in many years and collects less than neighboring states.

“We are terribly underfunded in our Road Fund,” said Rep. Jenkins. “Taxes have become a dirty word and its up to us to explain to constituents what taxes pay for and the benefits to them.”

Rep. Upchurch, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, talked about the heavy lift associated with increased funding the state’s transportation infrastructure and the need for leadership from the top and across the House and Senate to be able to move forward.

“In Florida, tolls are everywhere, and they spend a lot of money on transportation projects,” said Rep. Upchurch. “There is room for tolls and an increase in motor fuel tax.”

Will We See A Gas Tax This Session?

This could be the year that a gas tax increase moves forward. With no representatives up for reelection, an agreement may be easier and less politically driven.

Representatives would likely need to create a stand-alone bill to make a fair and reasonable case for increased funding.

Dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, however, may take priority leaving little time for other bills. Post-pandemic we’ll still have the same transportation challenges for roads and all modes of travel.

“No matter what happens, I hope we all expect people to be moving again and we’ll need infrastructure investment,” said Sen. McGarvey. “We should start laying that foundation now.”

How Can The Public Share Its Thoughts On Transportation Funding?

“We need you to stand up,” said Rep. Santoro. “Contact your legislators, magistrates and local leaders to let them know that it’s something your community needs.”

By sharing your input and encouraging members of the House and Senate, as well as the executive branch, you help move better funding to your community and better roads for everyone. Increases in road funding have been years in the making, but until businesses and constituents buy-in and make their voices heard, it’s hard to move forward.

To find and contact your representative, visit https://legislature.ky.gov.

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