Kentucky plans to halt some road projects amid cash crunch
The "Pause 50" plan announced by Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas is intended to fix an "unsustainable" level of spending in the state's road fund.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet will halt some new road projects for a year and rein in spending for the following year, part of a move to avert a cash crunch in the state’s road fund.
Greg Thomas, Kentucky’s transportation secretary, told lawmakers Tuesday that the plan called “Pause-50” wouldn’t affect bridge replacements across the state, road resurfacing and work paid for with federal funds, such as a new Interstate 65 interchange in Bullitt County. Spending on Kentucky’s part of the Ohio River Bridges Project also would continue.
But with debt payments looming this summer, and lagging revenues to the road fund, Thomas said his agency will delay about $145 million in projects in order to keep the fund afloat.
“I’m fundamentally trying to keep from running out of money,” he said.
Kentucky aims to keep the road fund stocked with at least $100 million, but Thomas said the account is projected to dip to about $54 million by August. At that level, he said, the state would have few reserves in the event of a rock slide or other emergency.
A list of the projects that will be halted won’t be made public until next week at the earliest, according to the Cabinet.
Among the state-funded work lawmakers approved for the coming year in Jefferson County are an $11 million widening of Blue Lick Road near the Gene Snyder Freeway, a wider stretch of Greenwood Road near the Greenbelt Highway and about $16.3 million in improvements to Dixie Highway in southwestern Louisville.
Speaking to the state legislature’s interim joint committee on transportation, Thomas said spending on the halted projects would resume by next summer – or possibly earlier, depending on the health of the road fund. Plans call for $50 million to be spent in the fiscal year that begins in July 2018.
“We’re not about hoarding cash that needs to be used for roads,” he said. “We can’t use it for anything else. Our role is to spend it as wisely and efficiently as we can.”
Some lawmakers warned that the plan could hurt small construction companies that count on highway contracts.
“They were anticipating the opportunity to bid on these, or to at least have that work for those employees, and there will be some layoffs of people in regards to this,” said Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson.
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, suggested the Cabinet look for other ways to cut expenses, such as studying the state’s roadside service program that competes with private industry.
Kentucky’s highway plan historically has had more state-funded projects than available money. In February, then-Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock estimated that the spending plan was “over-programmed” by about 300 percent.
Thomas, who replaced Hancock in March, said Gov. Matt Bevin has asked the Cabinet to develop a “prioritization model” of roadwork across the state, basing the needs on safety, congestion and maintenance needs “with an economic development overlay.”
The rankings should be ready in September, Thomas said.
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