A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Building Kentucky’s future starts with strong infrastructure; highway accessibility matters

By Juva Barber
Special to NKyTribune

In the last two years, four companies have announced investments in Kentucky of more than $5.6 billion – that’s billion with a “b.”

Toyota, UPS, Amazon and Braidy Industries have one thing in common – they depend on a reliable, efficient transportation system to transport their products to the world and to bring needed resources to their facilities.

And they’re not alone. Highway accessibility is the most important factor in site selection for an employer, according to Area Development Magazine’s 2016 survey of corporate executives.

It isn’t just our roads that provide crucial transportation.

Kentucky has the fourth largest inland waterway in the United States and transported 100 million short tons of cargo last year, ranking seventh in the nation. Our rail system moves more than 95 million tons of freight annually. And, our public transportation systems provide 31 million trips each year – many of them transporting workers to jobs, senior citizens to needed appointments and students to educational opportunities.

Juva Barber

Transportation infrastructure brings Kentucky to the world and the world to Kentucky by connecting companies to the global marketplace and bringing visitors to our communities. More than $500 billion in freight flows through Kentucky annually, and transportation brings in tourists and visitors, who contribute almost $14.5 billion to our economy.

Those results are a reflection of Kentucky’s incredible interconnected transportation network.

But we must invest more in infrastructure to attract and expand a 21st century economy and jobs as well as ensure safety for our families and workers.

Despite efforts to stabilize transportation funding, the investment we need to maintain our transportation network isn’t available. That gap will prevent us from keeping pace with future needs at a time when hundreds of millions of dollars is required for maintenance of roads, bridges, rail, ports and transit, as well as new construction.

Don’t be misled into thinking the choice is between investing more in infrastructure or saving that money for other uses. We’re already paying for it.

Driving on Kentucky’s diminishing transportation system costs motorists a total of $4 billion yearly in additional vehicle operating costs, congestion-related delays and traffic crashes, according to transportation research organization TRIP. That total is 2.5 times greater than what Kentucky spends in the road fund each year.

In addition, Kentucky has almost twice the number of narrow rural roads compared to the U.S. average. That has led to a fatality rate – per miles driven – that is the fourth highest in the country.

We agree that Kentucky should continually look for efficiencies – and we are. The Reason Foundation’s Annual Performance of State Highway Systems report (2016) ranked Kentucky No. 14 among states in highway performance and cost effectiveness. This 14th-place ranking is higher than all seven surrounding states.

The report compares the performance of state highway systems in 11 categories. Kentucky was ranked first in administrative costs—meaning the state had the lowest administrative cost per mile—and scored well in total spending, bridge spending, maintenance spending and the condition of rural roads.

However, the Commonwealth scored poorly in fatality rates, structurally deficient bridges and narrow rural lanes. Those rankings mean the management of funds is doing well, but the condition of the roads needs improvement. More investment in all modes of transportation is the answer.

Funding solutions must be dynamic and meet the evolving needs of a changing economy. We support long-term, sustainable funding that provides adequate revenues for all modes of transportation so our state can maintain the infrastructure we have today and build what we need for our future.

So next time you read about another job announcement, remember that it was made possible by transportation. It’s an investment that pays tremendous dividends for our entire Commonwealth.

Barber is executive director of Kentuckians for Better Transportation and chairwoman of the Kentucky Infrastructure Coalition, a group of more than 30 organizations that represent manufacturers, farmers, economic development leaders, engineers, local leaders and more than 40,000 transportation workers who understand that safe, reliable, efficient transportation is essential to Kentucky’s economy.

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