One of my biggest goals as House Speaker is making sure that the state’s six-year highway plan stays true to its name.
In the past, it was all too common for road projects to linger for years, if not decades, as we saw with our own Minnie-to-Harold connector. Fortunately, the General Assembly has become much more disciplined in recent legislative sessions when it comes to having the Transportation Cabinet stick to project timelines.
This year will be challenging, however, given that the administration’s plan contained more projects than revenue to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. While the cabinet does need some flexibility, it is important we keep this wish list to a minimum; otherwise, we risk returning to an era of unrealistic expectations.
The road plan that the House voted for early last week goes a long way to putting us back on track. Locally, it keeps construction on the connector moving forward, and it provides a more realistic timeline for the Mountain Parkway expansion, contrary to media accounts that indicated this project would be delayed.
Our approach calls for this expansion to be broken up into nine sections, with each two-year budget cycle tackling three at a time. By doing this, we believe we can avoid the need for tolls altogether.
Overall, the two-year plan proposes $4.5 billion in spending, which includes state and federal sources as well as previous bonding from earlier road plans. In fact, there is enough bonding available that the state will not have to borrow any additional money during the next two years.
Beyond the Mountain Parkway, the plan’s larger projects include work tied to the two new Louisville bridges, which are currently under construction; six-laning more of I-65; and improving the I-69 corridor in Western Kentucky.
The day before the House sent its road plan to the Senate, my colleagues and I voted for legislation that could have a major impact on how major highway projects – and other infrastructure as well – is built in the years ahead.
This public-private partnership, as it is commonly called, would include Kentucky among the estimated two-thirds of the states, including the seven surrounding us, that already allow this type of arrangement. The leaders of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spoke in favor of this concept as well when it was still in committee.
Our goal is to make it easier for private enterprise to help improve the public good while relieving the financial burden placed on taxpayers. This could lower government costs while moving projects forward that otherwise might see long delays. There are a variety of relationships possible with this type of arrangement, depending how much involvement state and/or local officials want.
On Friday, the House voted for legislation that would tighten how eminent domain is used by private companies. This is partly related to the Bluegrass Pipeline, which will ship liquid natural gas products from such states as Pennsylvania to the Gulf region, but the goal is not to stop it; we just want to make sure that affected landowners have a true choice in deciding whether to sell an easement on their property.
I believe strongly that eminent domain should only be used in those cases where our citizens directly benefit, such as building a road or improving utilities. That is why I added an amendment that would keep the playing field level for those liquid natural gas products that may be recovered here in Kentucky
Beyond these high-profile bills, the House voted last week for several others that also would have a positive impact on the state. Those would do so such things as call on child-care centers to do more radon testing; allow greater expungement of misdemeanors and traffic violations after a proper length of time; and encourage schools to be closed on Veterans Day or at least spend time commemorating the holiday.
This is the last full week of the legislative session, so time is drawing short as the House and Senate look for compromises on numerous issues. After Friday, we will only have a few more days to meet before the General Assembly concludes its work on April 15th.
If you would like to let me know your views, please feel free to email me at Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov. To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, dial, toll-free, 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.