From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh
Kentucky’s road fund may end the current fiscal year $140 million dollars in the red. In fiscal 2010, which begins July 1st, the road fund is facing a projected deficit of $239 million. But under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the state is receiving $421 million for road and bridge projects and another $51.5 million for public transit. It’s a real shot in the arm, says Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ernie Harris.
“By getting that extra year’s funding we could do some of the work on the interstates and these big ticket items, which freed up extra money for things that had been on the six-year road plan for quite a while that we’re able to move, in some cases to the top of the list, in other cases, just to get them funded for the first time,” said Harris.
To date, the state has obligated $163 million in stimulus dollars for state road and bridge projects and awarded $109-million. State Highway Engineer Mike Hancock says road widening, pavement rehabilitation and highway safety projects are already underway in nine counties. Another 33 counties have pending projects.
“And it puts people to work at a time when there were direly needed to be jobs created,” said Hancock. “So, in many respects, this was a godsend. It was what we needed.”
During a Frankfort briefing on the status of stimulus projects, Elizabethtown Rep. Jimmie Lee asked Hancock what’s being done about rehabilitating stretches of I-65 in his district.
“I’m receiving at least 10-to-15 complaints a week on the stretch of road between Louisville and Elizabethtown on I-65 about it being totally dangerous, especially for motorcycles,” said Lee.
“Those major problems are a focal point for our stimulus program,” replied Hancock. “We have somewhere in the neighborhood of $36 million that is being channeled to I-65 improvements, just to bring the pavements along that stretch of roadway up to better shape.”
South Shore Rep. Tonya Pullen wanted to know if there’s any stimulus money available for federal rail facilities in the state, which are in about a dozen counties.
“In northern Kentucky, we have an important train, the Cardinal. It runs from Chicago to Washington. And in western Kentucky there is the train they call the City of New Orleans,” said Pullen. “And although I know those funds do not pass through you all, I want to know if you are watching carefully the money that was awarded for AMTRAK and AMTRAK stations and that part of our transportation infrastructure in the commonwealth?”
Russ Romine of the Transportation Cabinet says, yes, there are stimulus funds available for rail improvements.
“There is a discretionary grant program that has been introduced,” said Romine. “And the application period opened within the last week. So freight and passenger rail does qualify for those funds.”
But that’s not the case for local road projects. Mike Hancock says the state just didn’t have enough time to get a handle on all the shovel-ready local projects.
“It’s one of those situations where we had a conscious choice to make about where these dollars could go and could be used effectively and quickly,” said Hancock. “I mean, part of this whole stimulus package was to deliver projects fast. And if we’d had 4,000 or 5,000 small projects that we were trying to accommodate through the plethora of federal requirements, it could easily have been chaos.”
The state has until March 2010 to obligate 100% of its transportation stimulus dollars. The federal funds will continue to be available until September 30, 2015.