For more than 60 years now, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has periodically taken a long look ahead to see what challenges and opportunities we can expect to face.
It’s an important review, given how much it takes to maintain and expand our roads, airports, waterways and railroads. It’s also critical because of the role we play in the nation’s transportation system. Our central location means no state is closer to more Americans east of the Rocky Mountains than we are.
The Cabinet began working on this latest long-term study in 2012 as a follow-up to the last one done in 2006. A draft is now available for public review through June 23rd and can be found at our local highway departments and area development districts or online at http://yourturn.transportation.ky.gov.
The information the draft contains confirms just how extensive our transportation system is. We have more than 78,000 miles of public roads, for example, and those who drive on them log more than 47 billion miles a year. No other state is home to two major air cargo hubs; only seven ship more cargo by water than we do; and just four set aside a higher percentage of their federal highway money for projects benefiting pedestrians and bicyclists.
The report is focused not so much on specific projects as it is on trends that are expected to guide state and federal transportation spending between now and 2035. That’s no small amount of money, since the Cabinet has spent $7.5 billion over the last five years, and it estimates there are more than $58 billion worth of projects that will eventually need to be tackled.
The Cabinet notes that Kentucky remains a predominantly rural state, but like the nation as a whole, further urbanization is expected.
You can see that as more people look beyond their own vehicles to get around. In our cities, for example, the number of trips on public transportation systems grew from nearly 22 million in 2006 to 26 million in 2012. It’s estimated that 22,000 Kentuckians rely on public transportation to get to work. This is an issue especially important to me, because I think mass transit should be a key component in making it easier for people from our region to find good-paying jobs without having to leave what I think is the best place in the world to live.
The most positive trend we have seen in recent years is a steep decline in highway fatalities. In 2005, before our seatbelt laws were tightened, these deaths were expected to reach 1,200 by 2011. Instead, that figure hit a 64-year low last year, with the total almost half of what had been projected.
One of our bigger challenges in the next two decades is properly maintaining what we have. A persistent problem – no doubt made worse by the past winter – is a relatively high percentage of rough roads. The Cabinet says that 81 percent of our roads are rated good or fair, but the goal is to move that to 92 percent by 2035.
Bridges are another concern. There are 14,000 altogether across the commonwealth, and the Cabinet spends about $30 million annually for their upkeep. Still, nearly 1,000 are rated in poor condition and will need to be repaired or replaced soon.
Among the other modes of transportation, the Cabinet says we export about twice as many tons by rail as we import, and there are 4,000 people in the rail industry who make all of this possible. We ship about 92 million tons over our waterways, nearly half of which is coal; and our passenger airports, the three largest of which support 85,000 jobs, served about 10.3 million customers in 2013.
From the moment Kentucky became a state, finding ways to improve our transportation system has been one of our top priorities. This long-term report, like the others before it, gives us an idea of where we should focus as we look to build on what we already have.
If you have the time, I encourage you to take a closer look at this plan, and if you have any suggestions or comments for me, I would like to hear them as well. You can email me at Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.