Western KY legislators pre-file bill to fund “mega” transportation projects

Two western Kentucky state senators pre-filed a bill Monday that would establish a statewide transportation authority with the ability to issue bonds and levy tolls on “mega” transportation projects with billion-dollar price tags. 

The bill filed by Sen. Dorsey Ridley, a Henderson Democrat, and Sen. Jerry Rhoads, a Madisonville Democrat, would create an 11-member Kentucky Public Infrastructure Authority to borrow the money needed to help finance these projects, including the proposed Interstate 69 bridge at Henderson that could cost $1.4 billion. 

“We’re acknowledging the fact that Kentucky’s roads and bridges are aging and we need some serious financial investment,” Ridley said. “It’s just an alternative funding mechanism that the (Kentucky) Transportation Cabinet will have for these mega-projects.”

The proposal follows debate during this year’s legislative session over competing proposals to help fund these projects with the anticipation of little significant financial help from the federal or state road funds in the near future. Continue reading

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Bits and pieces from the I-69 sign unveiling

Just a few sights and sounds from Gov. Steve Beshear’s visit to Owensboro this afternoon to unveil the sign designating the Audubon Parkway as a future Interstate 69 spur – 

  • While in town, Beshear said he would be attending a fundraiser for the Kentucky Democratic Party tonight at the Stone Creek Park home of Dr. Don Neel. 
  • When asked about the 2nd District Congressional Race, Beshear said he liked the chances for Democrat David Boswell, a state senator from Sorgho. “We are pulling out all the stops. We’re going to try to make sure that he’s our next congressman,” Beshear said. 
  • Boswell missed the event today, but his opponent, fellow state senator and Republican Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green was there. Part of the reason he attended the event was he was already in town for the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation, which meets Friday morning at the RiverPark Center, and he chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. 
  • Friday’s IJC Transportation meeting will be the first time Boswell and Guthrie will meet since their debate Monday night on KET and since the flurry of campaign ads this week that has included a scuffle between the two camps over a DCCC ad that made questionable claims about Guthrie’s family company, Trace Die Cast Inc. Guthrie said he didn’t plan to bring the ad up with Boswell on Friday, but he was sure they would see each other at the meeting and might talk. 
  • Although Boswell was absent from the I-69 event, his supporters obviously weren’t. When leaving, I noticed someone had placed a “Boswell for Congress” sticker on the back of Guthrie’s van, right between his two “Guthrie for Congress” stickers.

Study: tolls and more needed for $1.4 billion I-69 bridge

A study released by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet found that the cost of the proposed I-69 bridge project in Henderson has grown by $750 million over the last five years, and more than tolling will be needed to cover its $1.4 billion cost.

“While the study doesn’t provide a direct path for financing this important transportation and economic link, it does provide us with a starting point for discussions on how to best finance the project,” said Chief District Engineer Ted Merryman with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in a statement.

Keith Todd, spokesman for the Cabinet’s Madisonville office, said having a working estimate of the project’s cost, and what different funding mechanisms such as tolling can deliver, provides the Cabinet with a basis for its decision on how to proceed.

“Our staff in Frankfort are still analyzing it and looking at the options,” Todd said. “This does at least give us a starting point now to start those discussions on how we get there.”

The study, conducted by URS Corp., looked at different scenarios for the project including not using toll revenue, establishing tolls just on the new bridge and putting tolls on the new bridge and the U.S. 41 bridges.

A $2 toll on both bridges would generate about $48 million in revenue annually beginning in 2020, but that would not be enough to completely cover the debt service on the bridge, the study found.

Mark Brown, a Cabinet spokesman in Frankfort, emphasized that the study is just a tool Cabinet officials will use to determine how to pay for the project.

Like the other mega projects around the state – including Ohio River bridges in Louisville and northern Kentucky – the I-69 project that will extend the highway from Henderson to Fulton in southwestern Kentucky won’t be able to rely as heavily on federal funds as large projects have in years past.

Several proposals to set up one or several infrastructure authorities failed during this spring’s legislative session, and the issue appears headed for more debate when lawmakers return to Frankfort in January.

WKY legislators want I-69 bridge in state highway plan

The Western Kentucky Caucus is asking Gov. Steve Beshear to include the proposed Interstate 69 bridge in Henderson in the 2008 state highway plan.

The caucus, which includes 32 state senators and representatives from west of Interstate 65, sent a letter last week to Beshear with their request following a meeting in Frankfort.

Interstate 69 is expected to run through Kentucky from Henderson to Madisonville and Eddyville before entering Tennessee in the southwestern corner of the state. The interstate will include portions of the Pennyrile and Western Kentucky parkways that will upgraded to be able to interstate standards.

In its July 10 letter to the governor, the caucus explains that the proposed interstate bridge at Henderson has received no funding so far despite work to complete the Indiana portion of the expanded interstate.

“The project will open not only highways, but much needed economic opportunities for Western Kentucky,” the letter states.

A revised version of the state’s two-year highway construction plan was presented by the Kentucky Transportaiton Cabinet last month, but did not include funding for the Henderson bridge.