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Transportation budget, state road plan clear House

By Rebecca Hanchett, LRC

Frankfort KY, - A $4.7 billion spending plan that would fund over $2 billion in state highway and bridge projects throughout the Commonwealth through fiscal year 2022 has advanced to the state Senate.

The House yesterday voted 71-14 to approve House Bill 353, the biennial Transportation Cabinet budget which would fund upwards of $2.3 billion in projects approved separately in the biennial state highway construction plan - or "state Road Plan"--found in HB 354. That bill passed later in the day by a vote of 72-12.

Rep. Sal Santoro, chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, said that public safety was a priority as lawmakers worked on both bills. Santoro, R-Florence, presented the bills for a vote in the House at the request of the bills' sponsor, House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah.

"With the limited funds we had to work with, I think we did a marvelous job," Santoro said, telling the House that HB 353 would provide additional millions for transportation needs in Kentucky over the next two years, including an $18.3 million boost in aviation funding and over $3 million for work on railroad crossings. Riverport improvements would also get a boost with an added $1 million in funding over the biennium.

At least $8 million would be provided for guard rail installation statewide, he said. And up to $20 million or more would be made available to support state compliance with the federal Real ID security mandate.

HB 353--which would appropriate state and federal funds, as well as bond funds and restricted funds - would also cover funding of operations and administration of the Transportation Cabinet itself.

Santoro said not all projects requested by lawmakers were able to be accommodated in the proposed Road Plan in HB 354 since needs "far outweigh our resources." Part of the problem, he said, is the state's pending loss of all available federal toll credits - a resource that Kentucky has used for years to draw in federal transportation grants.

Still, Santoro said HB 353 and 354 will help.

"This is a realistic approach that should bring accountability from the Executive Branch," he told the House.

Some lawmakers questioned the process used to prioritize projects in the proposed Road Plan. Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, said a major roundabout project near WKU in her district was a top priority under the Transportation Cabinet's SHIFT program, or Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow, a data-driven program for prioritizing projects and funding. The roundabout project is not in HB 354, Minter said.

"I hope everybody is going to raise some serious questions about how this (process) has been done," she told the House.

Rudy said the proposal was designed to avoid significant overprogramming of the Road Plan, a practice that he said can push projects back for years. HB 354 is designed to avoid that and give the General Assembly more control over the planning process, he added.

"It's a big, diverse state," said Rudy. "And (Santoro) alluded to the issue of funding."

A separate piece of legislation approved by the House contains highway construction projects recommended for funding outside the biennium through fiscal year 2026, or what lawmakers call the "out years." That legislation, House Joint Resolution 66, also sponsored by Rudy, passed on a vote of 74-10.

"This...allows us to prepare for the future," Santoro said of HJR 66.

Both HBs 353 and 354 and HJR 66 now go to the Senate for consideration.

This story was posted on 2020-03-19 07:33:35
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