Road Projects in Kentucky Could Stall

Aug 23, 2011

LOUISVILLE – Highway construction and repairs across the Southeast would have to be canceled or delayed if Congress allows the nation’s federal surface transportation funding program to expire, Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said Tuesday.

Hancock is president of the Southeastern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which concludes its annual meeting Tuesday in Louisville. He joined other state transportation CEOs, including Susan Martinovich, of Nevada, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in calling on Congress to act before the nation’s surface transportation program, known by the acronym SAFETEA-LU, expires Sept. 30.

Funding to states will cease if Congress fails to extend SAFETEA-LU or to pass comprehensive legislation to reauthorize the program, according to a press release from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

“We urgently need for Congress to pass a reauthorization bill – one that sustains funding at current levels and adjusts revenues for inflation,” Hancock said in a news conference. “States need certainty. Effective planning is impossible otherwise.”

Federal highway funding is actually a reimbursement arrangement. States first put up their own money, and then are paid back by the Federal Highway Administration from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. If the federal program is allowed to lapse and reimbursements cease, state-funded road work – not just projects that would receive federal dollars – also will be in jeopardy, Hancock said.

The expiration of SAFETEA-LU also would result in the loss of funding for public transportation systems on which many the nation’s most vulnerable citizens depend. Public transit programs collectively employ 1,200 Kentuckians.

“It would be devastating to communities large and small throughout the southeastern U.S. to lose those public transit programs,” Hancock said.

AASHTO President Martinovich said 500,000 jobs and countless transportation projects nationwide are at stake.

“We’re here today to sound the alarm,” she said., “Congress must take action by September 30th, or the federal highway and transit programs that support thousands of jobs in every state will shut down.”

In Kentucky, 2,200 federal-aid projects are currently under way – projects to give motorists smoother and less congested roadways, and modern or refurbished bridges. Hancock said the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet had tentatively scheduled to take bids on 33 federal-aid projects, totaling $447.2 million, from September through December. The bid letting for Sept. 23, a week before the expiration deadline, will go on as scheduled, but the cabinet could be forced to hold off on awarding contracts, he said.