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Senate to unveil proposed state road plan on Wednesday
By Jack Brammer and Ryan Alessi, Bluegrass Politics Blog, March 3, 2009

Top lawmakers said they expect to unveil the latest draft of a major list of Kentucky road construction projects Wednesday.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said senators have been in long talks with Gov. Steve Beshear’s Transportation Cabinet and will release their edited version of the plan, which the House worked on last week.

“We understand that the Senate has not done any harm to the House proposal, simply added roads and bridges that were important to them,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Lawmakers have been cobbling together the plan behind closed doors for three weeks as they selected, prioritized and figured out how to fund a slew of road projects, many of which have been on the drawing board for years.

Meanwhile, Beshear made a rare trip to the third floor of the Capitol to huddle with House Democratic leaders about the plan, as well as a proposal to work with Indiana to fund and manage bridges over the Ohio River.

Neither Beshear nor legislative leaders would say how much spending on road construction projects the plan contains or how many of those projects can be paid for over the next 16 months, when the current two-year state budget expires.

Kentucky is slated to receive $421 million in federal money for road construction from the stimulus bill Congress approved last month. Half of that must be used on projects that are ready to begin in the next 120 days, while the rest must be spent within the year, said Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

In addition, both Williams and Stumbo said they expect lawmakers to freeze the current state gas tax of 21.1 cents a gallon instead of letting it drop by 4 cents as expected. The gas tax is supposed to be tied to wholesale gas prices, which have dropped sharply in the past six months.

Each penny from the tax translates to about $32 million.

Without that money, many road projects would be slashed from the plan, Stumbo said. But some lawmakers want to see the road plan before they commit to keeping the tax at its current level, Stumbo said.

Stumbo also hinted that the state could leverage some of the tax money by selling bonds.

“The state would get a better bang for its dollar quickly if we could begin doing some of those projects,” he said. “I’m not opposed to bonding.”

As for the bridge plan, House Democrats crafted a bill that would create a state authority to oversee local bridge authorities, which would form to create financing and construction plans for bridges over the Ohio River between Indiana and Kentucky, said Rep. Don Pasley, D-Winchester.

The plan would allow the authorities to implement tolls, which would provide money to pay for the bridges.

State road plan calls for spending $1.2 billion or more
By Ryan Alessi, Bluegrass Politics Blog, March 4, 2009

Details of a project-stuffed state road plan worth between $1.2 billion and $1.4 billion began to leak out Wednesday as legislative leaders continued behind-the-scenes negotiations.

House and Senate leaders have taken turns adding and subtracting — but mostly adding — to the list of priority projects that will be paid for through a combination of federal funds, new stimulus package money and as much as $400 million in state-issued bonds, lawmakers confirmed.

Late Wednesday morning, Senate leaders sent back to the House an edited draft of the priority list, which leaders gave to Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris and the House transportation budget panel chairwoman, to analyze overnight.

“We wanted to make sure we understood what they did before we talked to our members about it,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “We think members will be happy with what they see.”

The Senate version of the road plan changed how some minor bridge projects were funded, Stumbo said.

House lawmakers are expected to get details of projects for their districts Thursday in preparation for a vote on the plan as early as Friday.

They also will be asked to vote on freezing the state’s gas tax at 21.1 cents per gallon. The tax rate was slated to drop about 4 cents on April 1 because of the plunge in wholesale gas prices over the last six months.

Those 4 cents have become essential to the funding of many projects, as well as county and community road construction and maintenance. Nearly half of the revenue generated by those four pennies gets pumped to local governments. Each penny generates roughly $32 million a year.

“If we don’t keep the gas tax at the current level that it is now then there’s no reason to have a road plan because there won’t be any roads,” said Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville and the House Democratic caucus chairman.

Legislative leaders plan to use revenue from about 1.5 cents of the gas tax to pay annual debt costs on $350 million to $400 million worth of state issued bonds that will fund a slew of state road projects, Stumbo said.

The rest of the money for road construction in the plan comes from a variety of sources, including:

■ The recently-approved federal stimulus bill provides $421 million to Kentucky for transportation, of which $367 million can be used for road construction, Overly said. Of that, half must be spent on building projects within 120 days of the money’s release, while the rest must go toward projects that are ready to go within the year.

■ The General Assembly freed up $221 million last year by moving around potential bridge funding to use federal Garvey bonds for state roads.

■ And Kentucky is slated to get about $400 million from its regular federal transportation department allotment, Overly said.
Overly, a lawyer and former Transportation Cabinet engineer, said the Senate’s revised version of the road plan isn’t drastically different than what House leaders put together last week.

Projects that are almost assured to be in the final draft of the road plan include the Newtown Pike extension in Lexington, which is expected to cost at least $9 million. That project is a key component of Lexington’s preparations for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“That’s the number one priority of the Fayette County delegation,” said Overly, who represents a slice of the northern part of the county. “I think you’re going to see that done out of the stimulus money.”

Overly also said widening of the Bourbon County bypass, which is currently a mix of two and four lanes, will be in the plan. And some money might be tagged to fund “very preliminary” planning and design work for a road to connect Jessamine County to I-75 in Madison County, she said.

Lawmakers will likely spend much of Thursday checking the list to see if projects they’ve been pushing will get funded over the next 16 months.

Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown and the House Republican leader, said he hoped to share the details of each county’s projects with GOP lawmakers individually.

“It certainly will create jobs and get some road projects done that need to be done,” he said. “Our guys just want to look at it and weigh the benefits of it and the disadvantages.”

State road plan clears first hurdle
By Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave, Herald-Leader, March 6, 2009

FRANKFORT — The House will vote on a $1.2 billion road plan Friday that focuses on moving forward hundreds of projects across the state instead of starting new ones.

The plan hinges on lawmakers locking in the current state gas tax of 21.1 cents a gallon at the pumps instead of letting it drop 4 cents April 1.

Fayette County would receive $125 million over the next two years under the proposal, which includes $11 million for the Newtown Pike extension and $10.3 million for improvements at and near the Kentucky Horse Park, key projects for the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

The plan uses money from various funding sources, including more than $400 million in federal stimulus dollars from President Obama's administration, $400 million in state bonds and an additional $231 million in federal bond money.

Under the plan, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, will see work resume on Mud Creek Road in Floyd County, his home county. Former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher had halted the project. As attorney general, Stumbo prosecuted Fletcher in a state hiring scandal.

Meanwhile, a road project championed by Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, but nixed by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear early last year, is back on track.

Beshear's Transportation Cabinet had canceled an $11.9 million change order that expanded a $53.2 million project to widen and straighten Ky. 90 and Ky. 61 in Cumberland County, Williams' home county.

House and Senate leaders, along with Beshear and his officials, have been working mostly behind closed doors to hammer out an agreement on the plan, which outlines road projects for the next six years. The plan the legislature approved last year was ruled invalid by Franklin Circuit Court because it was not presented to Beshear on a timely basis.

Legislative leaders unveiled the new plan Thursday and put it on a fast track in the House. The House budget committee gave its blessing Thursday night, clearing the way for a vote Friday.

Two Republican panel members — Tommy Turner of Somerset and Scott Brinkman of Louisville — voted against freezing the gasoline tax rate, saying the money should go back to motorists.

The rate had been scheduled to drop 4 cents on April 1 because of the plunge in wholesale gas prices over the past six months. Each penny of that gas tax generates about $32 million a year.

Several panel members complained that they did not have sufficient time to study the road plan, but Stumbo predicted it will pass the 100-member House with close to 70 votes.

Many legislators applauded the road plan because of the way it uses federal stimulus dollars to move long-anticipated road projects forward.

House Majority Caucus Chairman Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said the House and Senate were able to hash out a plan that did not include a long list of unfunded projects, which has been the case in years past.

Damron noted that Jessamine County received design money for the Interstate 75 connector, money for a by-pass around Nicholasville and $1.5 million for some reconstruction in downtown Nicholasville, which includes moving some utility lines underground.

In Fayette County, the plan includes $9 million for a runway extension at Blue Grass Airport, $9 million for the widening of Leestown Road near New Circle Road and Masterson Station Park and $3.8 million for the extension of Polo Club Boulevard at Deerhaven Lane and Todds Road.

"It's a good plan," said Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington. "Most of our road plans were really 20-year plans because there wasn't money to fund them."

Palumbo said she would support the freeze in the gas tax, noting that without it, the proposed road plan would not be possible. Palumbo said members were not told on Thursday how much their districts would be cut if the freeze in the gas tax is not approved.

"I believe we have to have roads for economic development and for safety reasons," Palumbo said.

The plan would use about 1.5 cents of the gas tax to pay annual debt costs of $400 million worth of state-issued bonds.

Stumbo said the Transportation Cabinet and the governor's office say the amount of debt used to finance the plan is manageable.

"Now is the time to sell bonds," Stumbo said. "You will get a pretty good bang for your dollar."

^ Two other articles posted today.

$40 million of road plan for Frankfort
By Paul Glasser, State Journal, March 6, 2009

The six-year road plan includes $38.8 million in local projects including bridge replacements, widening and drainage improvements.

It was approved by the House Committee on Appropriations Thursday evening and was expected to receive approval on the floor this morning. Legislators were required to revisit the road plan after a judge ruled that legislation approved in the 2008 session was unconstitutional.

Local elected officials say they are satisfied with the plan. Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said it includes all the major projects he requested.

Judge-Executive Ted Collins said he's pleased that funding was approved for his top priority - $10.4 million for major widening of U.S. 421 to five lanes between U.S. 60 and Chenault Industrial Road.

"We look forward to receiving the stimulus dollars and getting started on these projects as soon as possible," he told The State Journal.

Mayor Gippy Graham said he's pleased that $900,000 was allocated to paint the Singing Bridge in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

"The Singing Bridge has been at the top of our list," he said. "We want to have visitors coming in, but it's unsightly."

Other projects include:

>$570,000 to replace the bridge at KY 1665 over Stoney Creek
>$580,000 to reconstruct U.S. 421 between Bald Knob and Hariveland Road
>$13.2 million for improvements to U.S. 60 between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Schenkel Lane
>$260,000 for drainage improvements on Interstate 64 at milepost 58
>$520,000 to build a retention pond on U.S. 421 at milepost 2
>$1.6 million to improve the intersection of Cardwell Lane and C. Michael Davenport Drive
>$1.3 million for safety improvements at the interchange of KY 151 and I-64
>$14 million to widen U.S. 60 between Vicky Way and South Benson Creek Bridge

The road plan includes a total of $1.2 billion for road construction projects. The appropriations committee also approved Thursday legislation that would prevent a looming drop in the state's gasoline tax.

Lawmakers would also prevent a mandated drop of 4 cents in Kentucky's tax on gasoline from kicking in, under the proposal.

"We did what we thought was best for all of us," House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said.

House lawmakers are expected to approve the plan Friday. It would then head to the Senate for further consideration.

The pricey road plan, which legislative leaders have been working on in secret for weeks, will be funded in part through a mixture of state and federal funds.

That's including about $400 million in federal stimulus money and about the same amount in state-issued bonds, Stumbo said.

Kentucky's state gasoline tax, which is 22.5 cents per gallon, was set to drop by 4 cents per gallon because of a change in the wholesale price. Federal gasoline taxes account for about 18.4 cents per gallon.

Versailles residents consider roundabouts, other traffic ideas
By Greg Kocher, Herald-Leader, April 16, 2009

VERSAILLES — Roundabouts — those circular intersections that are popular in Europe but not so much in Lexington — were proposed as alternatives Thursday night for two troublesome traffic spots in Versailles.

And residents appeared open to the idea, according to results from instant polling on hand-held keypads of audiences at two separate meetings at Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center.

The roundabouts were among 10 ideas that residents were asked to consider to improve mobility and ease traffic congestion in and around Versailles. About 60 Woodford County residents attended.

Lexington's first roundabout, which opened on Reynolds Road in 2001, still has some drivers struggling to navigate the circle safely.

But that particular circle "was not done well at all, so everybody thinks roundabouts are bad," said Tom Creasey, transportation planning engineer for Entran. Entran is a Lexington firm conducting a $200,000 state-sponsored traffic study for Versailles.

Creasey asked residents to consider the roundabout concept for two intersections. The first is the "five-legged" intersection where Broadway, Main, North Main, Frankfort and Elm streets meet. At the other site, Tyrone Pike and Rose Hill Avenue meet at a sharply skewed angle. Both intersections see an above-average number of crashes.

To gauge public reaction, residents at the meeting answered questions using hand-held keypads, and their collective answers were then projected on a large screen.

Residents generally supported the roundabout on North Main but were cooler to the one at Tyrone Pike and Rose Hill.

After the meeting, Dr. Bill Graul expressed support for a Tyrone Pike and Rose Hill roundabout.

"If you learn how to do a roundabout, how to enter it and get out of it, it's simple," Graul said. "People in it have the right of way. People coming in have to give way to the people who are in it."

Pete Barrows also thought roundabouts are a fine idea.

"As a device in slow-traffic areas, I think they work well," Barrows said. "If you're going to have something multi-interchange, and you're already doing 25-mph speed limits, I think they work well. But if you've got people who want to be in a hurry, they don't work."

Among the other ideas, people were least in favor of building a "northwest corridor" from Falling Springs Boulevard and around the west side of Versailles to U.S. 6 at Midway Road.

Residents offered firm support to putting signs on Blue Grass Parkway directing big trucks headed to Interstate 64 to "use U.S. 127 North" at Lawrenceburg. They also expressed support for modifying the timing of five downtown traffic signals.

Creasey emphasized that "nothing at this point represents a commitment or a recommendation." Planners and a local steering committee want as much information as possible to improve mobility, efficiently allocate public dollars, improve safety, and reduce environmental impact.

Data collected at the meeting is to be posted soon on

A third public meeting will be held sometime this summer.


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