By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
Coinciding with National Infrastructure Week, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce today released “A Citizen’s Guide to Kentucky Infrastructure,” a report detailing the critical condition of much of the state’s infrastructure and suggested solutions to the issues facing the state.
Most Kentuckians probably think little about infrastructure until they hit a big pothole – a jarring reminder of the importance of well-maintained highways.
Beyond the impact on individuals, transportation is a vital element affecting the Kentucky’s prospects for economic prosperity: The state is within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population, making it a key site for industries that need to transport products across the country.
But transportation is just one part of the infrastructure that keeps Kentucky working, producing and growing, according to a new report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. The report, “A Citizen’s Guide to Kentucky Infrastructure,” takes a look at the current condition of such infrastructure elements as highways, bridges, riverports, utilities and broadband, water and wastewater, and others. It also identifies what is needed to strengthen the state’s structural backbone in key areas.
“Kentucky must realize our global competitors are building infrastructure at an impressive rate. To take full advantage of the state’s favorable geographic location and improve the ability of Kentucky companies to compete, we must place a greater emphasis on our state’s infrastructure. Our focus must be a comprehensive approach including energy, water, sewer, broadband and transportation systems,” said Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson. “The Chamber urges the state to utilize P3s and other innovative solutions in order to move Kentucky forward.”
Key points from the review include:
• Roads rated in poor condition – as much as 8% across the state and 16% of major urban thoroughfares.
• Narrow passages – 19.2% of rural roads are less than 12 feet wide, compared to 10.6% nationally.
• Annual cost to motorists of road congestion, vehicle operating costs due to poor roads and inadequate safety features: $4 billion a year.
• Less money to build and maintain highways with declining state funding due to reduced revenue from the gas tax.
• Deficient bridges – 1,157 (Kentucky ranks 19th nationally in the category) with another 3,133 considered functionally obsolete; repair costs are estimated at $2 billion.
• 16% – the number of Kentuckians who have no access to broadband Internet service; that compares to 10% nationally.
• Infrastructure needs over the next 20 years for drinking water: an estimated $6.2 billion; wastewater infrastructure: an estimated at $6.24 billion.
• Public transportation: almost exclusively via buses; no light rail or commuter rail.
The report notes that Kentucky’s state budget is under pressure – from public pensions, Medicaid costs and other programs – making money hard to come by to address critical infrastructure problems. But it also points to an area of possible progress as the Kentucky Chamber calls for the aggressive use of the state’s public private partnership (P3) law to leverage private-sector investments to expand and maintain the infrastructure that is so essential to the economic growth of the Commonwealth.
In response to the release of the report, key groups in Kentucky weighed in on the importance of investing in infrastructure.
“Having an accurate understanding of the state’s infrastructure is an important tool in determining where to focus scarce public resources and I applaud the Chamber for taking the lead with this report,” said Hood Harris, president, AT&T Kentucky. “In addition to public investment in Kentucky’s infrastructure, AT&T is committed to private investment to ensure our communications networks deliver the latest technology that so many Kentuckians demand.”
“Our transportation infrastructure provides a safe, reliable access for Kentuckians to go to school, work, or to access healthcare while also providing an efficient way to move millions of tons of freight each year. While our infrastructure has served us well we must continue improving and enhancing it to meet the changing needs of the citizens and corporations that call Kentucky home,” said Juva Barber, executive director, Kentuckians for Better Transportation.
Pointing to the increasing need for investment in water and waste water infrastructure, Kentucky American Water called for creative solutions to help move the state forward.
“We must address this critical infrastructure need with innovative solutions in order to preserve quality of life in our communities and maintain affordability of such services for citizens. Part of such solutions includes the need to consolidate water and wastewater systems in Kentucky,” said Nick Rowe, president of Kentucky American Water and senior vice president of American Water’s Southeast Division.
For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.