Kentucky has tens of millions of dollars of backlogged requests to repair local roads

By: - January 29, 2024 8:50 pm

Bobbi Jo Lewis, the commissioner of the Department of Rural and Municipal Aid in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, speaks to lawmakers Monday. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Kentucky is unable to fulfill nearly $40 million of requests from cities and counties to help repair local roads because of a lack of funding, a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official told state lawmakers Monday. 

Bobbi Jo Lewis, commissioner of the Department of Rural and Municipal Aid in the Transportation Cabinet, urged the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation to put $45 million from the state’s next two-year budget into the Highway Construction Contingency Account

Lewis said the contingency account is the only source of state funding, besides a share of the tax on motor fuel, to help counties and cities maintain and repair more than 40,000 miles of locally-owned roads. 

The funding account received over $75 million worth of road repair requests from local governments in the current fiscal year but has only been able to fulfill a little more than $20 million worth of requests. In some cases that’s because some of the roads weren’t in bad enough condition to justify funding. 

At the same time, more than $38 million of road repair requests that did justify state aid weren’t able to be funded because the contingency account lacked money. 

Part of the budget pitch to lawmakers for more money for local road and bridge repairs. (Kentucky Transportation Cabinet)

Lewis said having consistent, adequate funding in the contingency account also can help provide emergency funding for road repairs, pointing to an example of a Breathitt County road whose shoulder had disintegrated leading to a car wreck in October 2023. 

“The car was occupied at the time it went off the side and was caught by the guardrail,” Lewis said, mentioning no one was injured. “Full funding provides the necessary alleviation of hazardous conditions and safety issues within the commonwealth.”

With the contingency account replenished, she said, the cabinet would be able to do projects as they are requested “instead of having to worry about when we have the money to do them.” 

Lewis also said 510 locally-owned bridges across the state have various deficiencies and are in need of repairs and replacements, with $50 million allocated in the governor’s budget proposal to help fix the bridges. 

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, there are bridges “in bad need of repair” in his Eastern Kentucky district and that he sees plenty of roads that have “slippage.”

“I want to make sure that we’ve got the funding that we need to to address these issues,” Blaton said. “There’s hardly a road that doesn’t have breakage right now, and it’s just slipping off unlike I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.