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

History of scandal in Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

Lexington Herald-Leader reporters John Cheves and Jack Brammer have taken a look at the scandals that have plagued the state’s Transportation Cabinet in recent years.

The article looks at problems with the way the cabinet handles road contracts, such as relying on single bids or excessive change orders, as well as hiring practices in the sprawling cabinet that employees thousands.

The cabinet has again drawn attention as the FBI conducts an investigation into whether high-level administrators leaked confidential project cost estimates to contractors. Gov. Steve Beshear has directed current Transportation Cabinet Secretary Joe Prather to clean up the cabinet.

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.