By Lee Lingo
Each year Kentucky’s roads, rails, rivers, and airports carry more than $500 billion in freight to, from, and through our economy. Our employers such as UPS, Toyota, and Ford require a reliable and efficient transportation system, as do some 4,500 manufacturers and their nearly 250 million employees spread across the commonwealth. Infrastructure is the most essential, broad-based service that our tax dollars fund. But we are falling behind — in maintenance, in capacity, and behind our neighboring states as we compete for economic investment, job and wage growth, and a better quality of life.
Kentucky is blessed with three global shipping centers, 20 interstates and major highways, major railways, barge traffic on two large rivers, and more than 65 commercial and regional airports. But Kentucky also has almost twice the number of narrow rural roads compared to the U.S. average, as well as more than 1,100 structurally deficient bridges – 19th in the nation – and more than 3,100 functionally obsolete bridges.
We are fortunate to have a competitive edge in logistics due to our geographic location. If we are to maintain that edge, we must continue to invest in our transportation systems. Our economic development and job creation initiatives rely on a strong transportation infrastructure that is funded at a level capable of maintaining the current system and growing with the future.
As we continue to grow our economy, we place additional stresses on an already stressed transportation network because our traffic growth is outpacing the funding mechanisms in place to repair, replace, and build new. Additional investment is needed to keep our commonwealth strong and support its continued growth. The time to act is now. Delays will drive up costs and put us further behind our competitor states, many of which — like Indiana and Tennessee — have already increased their investments in infrastructure.
We lost $200 million, or 27 percent, to the road fund in 2015 from the motor fuels user fee. The motor fuels user fee is the primary funding mechanism to maintain Kentucky’s roads and bridges and expand our transportation infrastructure. It is calculated on the average wholesale price of gasoline, so as the price of gas goes down, so does the user fee. The user fee dropped by 6.5 cents per gallon in 2015.
The Kentucky Infrastructure Coalition (KIC) was formed by Kentuckians for Better Transportation, a transportation advocacy group. The KIC is composed of a group of local chambers of commerce, county officials, transportation industry trade associations, Kentucky Aviation Association, Kentucky Waterways Association, Kentucky Transit Association, Kentucky Farm Bureau and individual businesses across the commonwealth. The group was formed to advocate, restore, and increase the road fund to provide for sufficient funds to maintain and expand our current transportation systems. We can do that this year and KAM urges our policymakers to consider passing transportation infrastructure funding reforms this legislative session.
Lee Lingo is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers