Kentucky bill would create toll authority for ‘mega’ jobs

| 11/25/2008

Two state lawmakers in Kentucky are renewing an effort to create a state authority for large-scale transportation projects. The legislation calls for the creation of a statewide agency that could use tolls to pay for so-called mega-projects.

The previous effort died during the 2008 regular session. House lawmakers approved it, but it failed to receive consideration in the Senate before legislators adjourned for the year.

Hopeful that the outcome will be different this year, Democratic Sens. Dorsey Ridley of Henderson and Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville have renewed the effort that would create one state authority “to implement and facilitate the financing of major transportation projects and to hold ownership of projects.”

Mega-projects would be defined as those that cost at least $300 million and that are developed in coordination with the state’s six-year road plan. The 2008 version was limited to projects with price tags of $500,000.

The Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority could issue bonds and create tolls to fund roads and bridges. Tolls would be removed once the bonds are retired.

Supporters say the legislation is needed to pick up the pace of needed projects. It also would save millions of dollars on project costs to get the work done sooner, they say.

Projects that likely would benefit from the funding option include the construction of two bridges over the Ohio River joining the state with Indiana. Another project that would benefit is the reconfiguration of the interchange of Interstates 64, 65 and 71 in Louisville, dubbed “Spaghetti Junction.”

“Such big-ticket projects are the type that the Authority will review to decide and issue bonds so that the bonds are not the debt of the Commonwealth,” Ridley said in a written statement.

Others say that fuel taxes cannot be relied on to pay for mega-projects.

Critics are concerned that a statewide authority would be able to make decisions on issues that local officials would be better able to address. They also contend that a toll is nothing more than a tax.

The legislative effort can be brought up for consideration during the regular session that begins Jan. 6.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Kentucky, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor