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Kentucky leaders say an infrastructure deal is desperately needed

Posted at 7:20 PM, Jun 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 19:25:09-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — As infrastructure talks pick up on the national level, local leaders are hoping Kentucky gets the funding it desperately needs.

Leaders like Jennifer Kirchner who runs Kentuckians for better transportation, Chad LaRue who runs Kentucky Association of Highway Contractors, and JD Chaney CEO of the Kentucky League of Cities are particularly anxious for a deal.

"The national talks are exciting and inspiring local energy into it," said Kirchner. "And I think it's validation that what we've all been saying for so long, has moved up and it is being recognized and it is going to be addressed."

Kircher says infrastructure in Kentucky is at a critical point where it's no longer an option.

"I think that you see this happening at the national level because it's such a serious issue, it can no longer be avoided. I think that we see crumbling infrastructure all over the country and I know growing up I thought well this doesn't happen in the United States, you know, we're a country that provides for people's safety we grow we prosper. We try new things where we're innovative and here we are having basic facilities such as such as water and bridges harming our citizens and our people, so I think wherever you're coming from on the situation, investing in transportation is critical to every other conversation we have afterwards," said Kirchner.

They're promoting traditional infrastructure as what Kentucky needs right now.

-It will cost $180 million a year to keep the state's bridges from getting wore nearly double the current funding of $97 million a year.
-The estimated cost for Kentucky's 57 airports is $10 million a year for seven years to get up to a pavement maintenance program.
-The rural secondary road system add about $350 million to current needs.
-They say the further this is all delayed the worse conditions will become.

LaRue is a civil engineer who knows well the condition Kentucky roads, bridges, and highways because he's worked on them.

"I liken it to no different than owning a house or a car right you, you build a house, and you can do virtually no maintenance on it five or 10 years, you go 15 or 20 years without maintenance, you're gonna pay heavily for it the longer you wait," said Larue.

To put it into perspective there are 14,422 bridges in Kentucky some are state and others are federal but 1,033 are in poor condition. That's 7% of Kentucky's bridges. When we looked at the data, most of the bridges in poor condition were in Eastern Kentucky.

"It's due in part just to chronic underfunding that we've seen only increase over the last decade," said LaRue.

The three groups are a part of a larger collaboration the Kentucky Infrastructure Coalition, which has been trying to push the needle on the state level for years. Particularly they think a gas tax would be a good step and have introduced it to the legislature repeatedly.

"We hear that, you know, maybe it's not the right time, every single session. And so, five times in a row, even when gas was $1.50 a gallon, we were saying it's still not the right time. I don't know when, like policymakers are going to wake up and see that now is the right time. Yesterday was the right time to make this investment," said Chaney.

To put it into perspective, there are 14,422 bridges in Kentucky. Some are state and others are federal but 1,033 are in poor condition. That's 7% of Kentucky's bridges. When we looked at the data, most of the bridges in poor condition are in Eastern Kentucky.

"It's due in part just to chronic underfunding that we've seen only increase over the last decade," said LaRue.

Right now, the estimated cost in Kentucky to upgrade all poor pavement is $1 billion dollars and it's another billion for the poor bridges. The White House says the agreement calls for about $579 billion in new spending over the next five years. They think the plan, if passed, would be helpful to move the needle forward, it won't be a complete fix.

"We always say potholes don't have parties, and in this case we don't. It's a purely non-partisan issue. It is just foundational for economic growth that we invest in air in area of the structure. Both federally and both at the state level," said Chaney.