A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – When it comes to getting from points A to B, few states can match Kentucky. That’s not too surprising, given that we’re home to the country’s population center east of the Rockies, but the numbers behind our transportation systems are impressive nonetheless.
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.
These facts and many more are part of an extensive long-range study being done by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. While the General Assembly funds two years of highway spending at a time and makes plans for the four years that follow, the Cabinet is looking 20 years into the future.
This work builds on a tradition that dates back to 1953. The most recent of these studies was completed in 2006, while the latest update is expected to be ready by the fall.
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, either; over the last five years, the Cabinet has spent $7.5 billion, but it estimates there are more than $58 billion worth of projects that will eventually need to be addressed.
The Cabinet is relying heavily on public input in putting this long-term plan together. More than 16,000 people answered survey questions last year, while the public is encouraged to review and comment on the current draft between now and June 23rd, either online athttp://yourturn.transportation.ky.gov or in person at the local offices of our highway departments and area development districts.
The draft notes that hot spots of growth in Kentucky tend to be along our major interstates. Census figures show eight of our 120 counties along these corridors grew by a fifth between 2000 and 2010, while another 14 saw growth exceed 10 percent. 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. Incidentally, 55,000 others work out of their home, while 40,000 walk and 20,000 use bikes or other means.
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 figure 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 five 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 what challenges and opportunities await us 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 write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me [email protected] To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.