There is no doubt that putting in place quality infrastructure, including roads, bridges and water systems, is incredibly vital to our quality of life. We depend on safe roads, quality drinking water and reliable forms of energy. It makes perfect sense that these should be among the most important priorities of state government, and thankfully, they are right now.
The current road plan was the first Republican-crafted spending document on our state’s roads and bridges in nearly a century. And in an act of responsible governing, it was put together based on real infrastructure needs, not politics. It prioritized road maintenance that is critical to both safety and economic development, investing $365 million in road paving and resurfacing. This plan also invests over $545 million in worn down and aging bridges, ensuring that a bridge is replaced or repaired in nearly every Kentucky county.
With that said, we have some very real challenges facing our basic infrastructure — roads and bridges. The impending loss of significant federal road dollars threatens our ability to fund important projects. We are also continuing to see a rise in fuel-efficient vehicles, which may have some advantages, but is a trend that leads to less gas consumption. Under our current road funding formula, which is tied to gas usage, this has a negative effect on incoming revenues.
Good infrastructure is critical to job growth, as businesses must have a path to transport their products. With the challenges we are facing, finding a way to adequately invest in roads is vital to continuing Kentucky’s economic momentum. While there is certainly a need for more road funding, there is also widespread agreement that our funding formula must be modernized. Discussions are underway on the best way to approach this in a comprehensive manner that prioritizes safety, economic development and job creation.
Many people assume that infrastructure is only about roads and bridges. But while the highways we use to travel are certainly important, it’s also important to note that we have other pressing infrastructure needs. For example, the General Assembly recently formed a Public Water and Wastewater System Infrastructure Task Force, which has met throughout this year to discuss ways to improve our water and sewage systems. According to testimony before this committee, this is a nationwide problem, as one in four Americans are exposed to potentially unsafe drinking water or wastewater systems.
There is no better example of the need to take care of all of our infrastructure needs than the water crisis facing rural Kentucky. Deteriorating water infrastructure in Martin County has gained significant attention, as discolored water, rising rates and poor management led to a lack of one of the most basic resources that our citizens need to survive. However, this problem is not unique to Martin County, as other rural water districts face failing infrastructure and frequent outages. Many water and sewage systems have been operating for decades without upgrades, creating unsafe conditions which threaten public health.
Fortunately, federal grant money has come down from the Trump administration to our state’s rural areas to help address this crisis. But our task force is continuing to look at improvements that can be made, including finding alternative funding sources to make additional improvements, increasing state oversight of local water districts, and potentially changing ownership of those districts and reforming how they operate. Many of the proposed changes would strongly benefit all of our citizens, and I look forward to seeing recommendations put forward by the task force that we can act on during the 2020 legislative session.
Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas on these and other topics we may address during the 2020 legislative session. I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Phillip.Pratt@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov and you can also follow me on Facebook @PrattforKY or on Twitter @PrattforKY.
Phillip Pratt represents the 62nd House District.