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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky transportation officials are urging lawmakers to increase spending on the state's roadway maintenance program, warning that the budget isn't keeping up with rising costs.
The program pays for snow and ice removal, bridge repairs, pothole patching, new guardrails and Kentucky's share of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in southeastern Kentucky, among other areas. Since 2010, lawmakers have set aside $323.2 million a year for maintenance – less than the amounts recommended by Gov. Steve Beshear.
But with the General Assembly set to begin debating a new highway plan in 2014, Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said Thursday that without an increase the state may be forced to shift money from other maintenance sources to cover immediate needs.
"The choices are not good for us," Hancock told members of the budget review subcommittee on transportation.
Since 2006, pavement patching costs have risen 47 percent and salt-related costs are up 64 percent; spending on roadway lights has nearly doubled; and the number of traffic signals, flashing lights and other electrical devices at schools has increased, according to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet figures.
Maintenance spending varies based on unforeseen events such as rock slides, floods and ice storms. In 2011, for example, snow and ice removal costs of $77 million accounted for nearly one-fourth of the entire maintenance budget. Those costs dropped to $28 million last year because of a milder winter.
But the state would have run out of maintenance money by spring if the winter had been more severe, said Tammy Branham, executive director of the cabinet's office of budget and fiscal management.
"We are … making it by the skin of our teeth in this program," Branham said.
Rep. Leslie Combs, co-chair of the transportation subcommittee, said lawmakers need more information about annual surplus funds to understand if the funding increase is justified.
"I think the sentiment will be to increase the maintenance fund because we all agree there's a definite need," Combs, a Pikeville Democrat, said in an interview. "If you build them, you need to take care of them."
The maintenance budget totals $646 million during the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years. It is part the $3.7 billion statewide highway plan funded largely by state and federal taxes on fuel sales.
Less than $1 million is budgeted on guardrail repairs. Statewide, 295 miles of new guardrails are needed – although it would take 50 years to install those under current funding levels, said Nancy Albright, director of the division of maintenance.
Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, said he is "absolutely adamant" that the guardrail budget be increased.
"Instead of addressing the accident side of it, do the preventative side," he said.