Louisville projects take a hit in Kentucky House highway plan
Contingency funds for the Ohio River Bridges Project, other projects cut from spending plan approved this week. It has $147 million less for Jefferson County than Gov. Matt Bevin's proposal.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The two-year highway plan approved by the Kentucky House this week removes $50 million for the Ohio River Bridges Project, part of roughly $147 million in cuts to Jefferson County from Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed road budget.
The bridges funds are not needed for building or financing the $2.3 billion venture, but rather represent emergency money set aside for the tail end of the work. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Ryan Watts said the House’s action is “not a cause for concern.”
“As we near the end of the project, we’re seeing less need for that protection,” he said.
But the chamber’s revisions affect road work planned near the East End Bridge set to open later this year, connecting Prospect, Ky., and Utica, Ind., north of the Gene Snyder Freeway.
The House postponed more than $7.5 million in utilities and right-of-way work needed in order to rebuild two ramps at the Snyder and I-64, and $4.5 million in early design and right-of-way spending for a Snyder widening project south of I-71.
The East End Bridge’s impact on the Snyder “just can’t be overestimated,” said Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, whose district also saw more than $5 million in construction funds pulled for safety work at the Snyder and Old Henry Road.
Miller attributed the cuts to partisan maneuvering.
“Look at the leadership of the Democratic House. Not one of them represent anywhere near Louisville,” he said. “It’s simple. Money goes where the leaders are, and that’s historic Kentucky politics and this House budget is no exception.”
The road plan, House Bill, passed the House Tuesday on a 56-40 vote after lawmakers traded jabs over projects that didn’t make the cut and claims that the chamber’s Democrat leaders padded their areas with roadwork. The Senate has yet to take up the measure.
House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, accused four Democratic House leaders of getting $500 million more for their districts in the House plan, compared with the version put forth by Bevin’s Transportation Cabinet. Speaking on the floor, Hoover called the road plan a “political document.”
But Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville and chair of the House budget review subcommittee on transportation, said in remarks on the House floor Tuesday that the plan weighed vast needs across the state and includes projects directly requested by Republican members.
In a statement issued Thursday, she said Hoover’s claims take into account a category of projects that would only be started once other “priority” projects are finished.
“Rep. Hoover also included in his totals those projects which are funded as ‘SP’ or state unfunded projects, and that is clearly a misleading number throughout all counties with the road plan if you just look at the totals for each county,” she said.
Combs also said the plan put forth by Bevin’s administration “needed to be trimmed because it was significantly over-programmed.” In February, Acting Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock acknowledged that the plan contained far more state-funded projects than available money. (Hancock since has resigned.)
The projects in the road plan are funded with state and federal money, but the state portion has struggled in recent years because of a drop in gas-tax revenues in Kentucky.
The House plan creates two categories of state projects. Those deemed a “priority” must be approved before any other state projects can start.
There are 13 priority projects in Jefferson County scheduled for the next two years, including the widening of Hurstbourne Lane from Linn Station Road to Eden Avenue; safety improvements to Dixie Highway; and streetscape work on East Market Street.
The plan includes 19 other state projects. Among them: Sound barriers on the Watterson Expressway near U.S.42 , widening Mt. Washington Road and safety improvements on Ky. 22 at Ten Broeck Way.
The House’s road plan removed 23 projects recommended by the Bevin administration, including the bridges funding. Of those projects, 12 are in Republican districts, four are in Democratic districts and six affect areas represented by lawmakers from both parties, according to a WDRB News analysis.
They include $22 million to clean and paint the Clark Memorial Bridge; about $21 million to widen an exit ramp from I-64 West to the westbound Watterson; and $12 million in safety improvements on U.S 42 from the Harrods Creek Bridge to River Road.
High-ranking Senate members, including Republican caucus chairman Dan Seum and Transportation Committee chairman Ernie Harris, represent parts of Louisville, and Miller said he’s optimistic that some of those projects can be restored as House and Senate leaders work on a compromise.
“I think it’s decent odds we’re going to get some of that back,” Miller.
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