Transportation Cabinet will present prioritized, less cluttered road plan under new SHIFT proposal

05/11/2017 05:34 PM

FRANKFORT — With next year’s budget session on the horizon, Transportation Cabinet Secretary Greg Thomas says his agency will take a new approach in presenting its proposed road plan.

Thomas told the Program Review and Investigations Committee Thursday that he hopes the proposed funding strategy, called the Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow, will create a leaner two-year construction plan and reduce over-programming.

SHIFT will prioritize road projects based on a number of factors like safety, congestion and economic development.

Thomas said there are some $7 billion in road projects in the current plan with around $690 million in state funding available.

“That creates the need, obviously, for prioritization,” he said in his testimony.

SHIFT will divide the state into four geographic regions — north, south, east and west — with all three corners of the so-called golden triangle of Kentucky included in the north region.

Once the state’s transportation priorities are ranked, Thomas said remaining funds will be divided evenly between the four regions, with input from local stakeholders on their transportation needs as well as a scoring system similar to one envisioned for state projects.

That prompted some concerns from urban lawmakers who may not be keen on competing against each other for road dollars, but Thomas said many of the needs in Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky will be met though the agency’s broader state priorities.

“We just felt like that was a good way to do it because the competition is kind of fierce,” Thomas said. “If you piece that out with say the east, for instance, the triangle will always win.”

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said that regional breakdown deserves further scrutiny from the General Assembly.

“My concern is obviously northern Kentucky, Lexington and Louisville are probably going to be the most congested parts of the state, and so when you break down the funding by region, is it appropriate that all those, the three, the golden triangle so to speak, be lumped in as one region?” he said. “I think that’s something we’re going to have to take a look at.”

Thomas said the state has problems funding its infrastructure priorities.

Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, said it’s time to reconsider the gas tax, currently at around 25 cents per gallon. Lawmakers last upped the the gas tax’s floor in 2015, and Clark said if an individual only filled up about 15 gallons of gas each week, that would yield about $3.75 in tax revenue for state roads.

“It costs you more to park in Louisville than you spend for gasoline,” he said. “Everybody wants a nice road, but people are reluctant to pay for them. We really have to address this.”

Schroder, a member of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, says lawmakers should take a closer look at the tax and its revenues. He also said he hopes to see less over-programming in future road plans so constituents will have a better understanding of which projects will likely become realities.

“I think it’s premature to make any kind of decision without fully studying it,” he said, noting that Indiana’s legislature raised that state’s gas tax by 10 cents per gallon this year.


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