Kentucky Secretary of Transportation Greg Thomas shared some words of warning about state funding surrounding two major bridge projects – one of which is the I-69 Ohio River Crossing connecting Henderson with Indiana – but project managers and local representatives are still positive.
During the Tuesday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation in Frankfort, Thomas told members of the General Assembly that the state would need to find ways to gather more funding for transportation projects like the I-69 project and the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Covington and Cincinnati.
“My primary reason for being here is to convey the need for increased funding,” Thomas said. “It’s a pretty dire outlook.”
Thomas said looking into how the state will pay for its share of both bridge projects led him to believe the state should try to provide greater funding if it wishes to complete necessary infrastructure investments. He estimated the state’s share of the proposed $1.1 billion I-69 bridge will be at least $455 million, and $385 million for the proposed $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement at Covington, leaving $140 million a year to spend on $10.5 billion worth of proposed transportation projects.
“That is kind of the message I’m here to deliver,” Thomas said. “I think it is very important that we together keep our focus on the need for increased funding as we move forward.”
Mindy Peterson, spokeswoman for the joint project between Kentucky and Indiana's state highway departments, said the team researching and preparing the I-69 project has been aware of the limited funds with which the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has to work.
“As far as I-69 is concerned, our focus has always been making it financially feasible,” Peterson said. “The only way to move this project forward is to look toward tolling and how to make it as easy and financially feasible as possible.”
Peterson said the situation Thomas outlined was the same the project team has been operating under, and they realize large infrastructure projects like the crossing couldn’t be accomplished strictly with state funds. Two of the bridge alternatives currently being considered do incorporate one existing span of the Twin Bridges at Henderson that would potentially be a toll-free route for local traffic.
Peterson said the project was still on track to finish a draft environmental impact statement in the fall, followed by more forums where citizens could ask questions of the project team.
Henderson County Judge-Executive Brad Schneider said he believes Thomas was right in his concern over how future infrastructure was funded given the state’s issues with increasing revenue, but he felt positive about the I-69 project.
“I think he is right, how we plan and fund infrastructure projects is a huge question mark for the state right now,” Schneider said.”We’ve always had the idea that our bridge would be built with tolls, but there are other factors like revenue in the state that will affect future projects. I still remain very hopeful it will move forward as soon as it's able.”
Schneider said leaders at the local and state levels are waiting to see what kind of help for infrastructure Kentucky can get from Washington, but bipartisan agreement on a congressional infrastructure bill has been stagnant since the end of May.
State Rep. Suzanne Miles, an Owensboro Republican whose district covers parts of Daviess and Henderson counties and all of Union County, said she was encouraged by Thomas’ comments on I-69 during the meeting.
“He was very clear in his statement that the I-69 bridge is a priority at this point because of the work that has been done and the support from Kentucky and Indiana,” Miles said. "It was very clear I-69 is in a good position to go forward. I was very happy with the information he presented with us yesterday.”
She said the project is a major priority for the future development of western Kentucky, and the western Kentucky delegations and project managers have worked closely with Indiana and Kentucky transportation officials to make it a reality.