FRANKFORT – Kentucky transportation officials plan to spend $700 million to repair or replace 1,000 bridges in six years despite forecasting stagnant growth in the road fund – the pot of money used to pay for transportation projects.
“It is one of the most aggressive bridge rehab and replacement programs in the country,” said Royce Meredith, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official who testified about the initiative during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation. “These are critical structures that affect every Kentuckian.”
Named Bridging Kentucky, the initiative will allow transportation officials to tackle more than three times as many bridge projects as years past. There is $340 million earmarked for nearly 350 bridges in the state’s current biennium, or two-year, budget that started on July 1.
“This program is large and broad,” Meredith said. “It includes structures in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties with a mix of bridges in rural and urban areas. This is a program that affects all parts of the state and impacts almost every driver that uses our roads.”
State transportation officials, highway engineers and consultants are currently screening Kentucky’s more than 14,000 bridges using detailed analytics and calculations for the life-cycle costs of rehabilitation verse replacement. Meredith said the evaluations should be completed this month. It will be followed by a series of industry forums this fall with bridge builders.
“We’re not going to rehab a bridge that should be replaced, and we’re not going to replace a bridge that should be rehabbed,” Meredith said. “Right now it appears about 30 percent of these bridges can be rehabbed.”
He said the bridge construction projects are being prioritized based on budget, construction of structure and project challenges.
Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, asked why the number of vehicles that cross each bridge isn’t being considered in the prioritization process if the cabinet is using a data-driven system.
“If there are 130 vehicles a day using the structure verse 13 vehicles a day, the one with 130 should be prioritized,” he said, “but you don’t list the number of vehicles that use the bridge as a factor.”
Meredith said the number of vehicles is among the multitude of factors being considered that was not highlighted in the slide presentation shown to the committee.
Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said there are bridges in eastern Kentucky that cannot handle the weight of a loaded school bus. He said the children literally have to get off school buses and walk across some bridges before the buses can cross the spans. He added that those bridges should be prioritized even if they have a low number of vehicles that cross them.
“That’s just good common sense,” Smith said.
Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, echoed Smith’s comment. He said his district has a substandard bridge that provides access to four homes.
“They need that bridge available, not only to get out, but so emergency vehicles can get to them,” Embry said. “The traffic on that bridge will always be very low but it is still important that bridge is fixed – even if the traffic count isn’t very high.”
Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, asked where one could find a complete list of bridges that are being repaired or replaced. Meredith said a list is being maintained on the website bridgingkentucky.com. He said that list would be updated in the next couple of weeks.
Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, urged the transportation department to expedite bridge inspections to avoid lane closures and traffic jams. He said there have been lane closures on the Interstate 24 bridge over the Tennessee River in Calvert City for about three months.
During the last half of the meeting, Robin Brewer of the Transportation Cabinet testified that the state road fund ended the fiscal year $7.7 million above the official revised revenue estimate of $1.5 billion.
Brewer estimates the road fund revenue through fiscal year 2020 to remain $1.5 billion per year.
“We are not really estimating any additional growth through the biennium,” she said. “It’s pretty much on autopilot at this point.”
The committee’s next meeting will be on Sept 12 at the Wayne County Public Library in Monticello.