Less than a week after announcing more than $34.4 million in federal funding for projects in more than a dozen Eastern Kentucky counties, Gov. Matt Bevin traveled to Prestonsburg on Wednesday to announce more funds will be dispersed.
Bevin also addressed questions about two pending Floyd County road projects.
He reported that Floyd County and the cities of Prestonsburg and Wayland will collectively receive more than $890,000 in discretionary funding for roads. He reported that Floyd County will receive $667,000, Prestonsburg will receive $145,700 and Wayland will receive $77,800 to resurface roads.
“It’s exciting when dollars come home,” he said. “It’s more dollars than have come back into this community than anytime in a long time, that’s true, but understand this. These are your dollars. There’s only so much you should thank us for bringing your own money back to you, truth be told. All of these dollars are taxpayer monies. They come from a variety of different sources, some federal, some local, some state, but they’re your own money coming back.”
Bevin said the funding was “driven by” local elected officials who “made the case” and worked with state officials to select priority roads in need of repair for safety and economic development reasons.
Proposed projects were submitted to the Kentucky Department of Rural and Municipal Aid and evaluated by staff “to assess the condition of roads and determine the most critical needs based on factors such as safety, economic impact and traffic volumes,” a statement from KYTC said.
“The roads set to be addressed were identified as among the most critical in the area,” the statement said.
Mary Westfall Holbrook, chief district engineer at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Highway District 12 in Pikeville, reported that these funds should be available within the next 30 days. The work will be conducted locally and local governments will be reimbursed, officials reported.
“These are ready to go. They’re ready to be let,” Bevin said. “And there’s really, we’ve got people willing and able to do the work, there’s no reason that they won’t be able be underway fairly soon.”
Answering a question from the audience, Bevin said the release of $34.4 million in Abandoned Mine Lands funding announced for several Eastern Kentucky counties last week is dependent on the federal government.
“The exact timing literally depends on each specific project,” he said, explaining that funding for feasibility studies may be available “quickly,” while funding for larger projects like the children’s hospital project at Pikeville Medical Center may take longer.
“The monies are allocated. The monies have already been budgeted … Those dollars are already there. They’re not just hypothetical,” he said. “They are going to come. They would not have been announced if it was not ready for them to be released.”
Floyd County Judge-Executive Robbie Williams said that with Wednesday’s announcement and those made last week in Pikeville, Floyd County has been promised $3.5 million in funding recently.
“I’m happy to be a part of it, but remember, it’s your money,” Bevin said.
Questions about Mountain Parkway, Ky. 680 addressed
Following the announcement of funding for Floyd County, Bevin answered questions from the audience about two Floyd County road projects that have been pending for years.
Zeb Campbell of Campbell Branch in Prestonsburg asked Bevin about progress of the Mountain Parkway project. Work is underway in other counties, but the Floyd County section of this project will not be funded for years. The Floyd County sections ranked 41st, 44th, 46th and 48th out of 49 top priorities in state priority plan, but another six year road plan is under development.
“It is a massive project,” Bevin told Campbell. “There is not enough money in any pool anywhere to do the whole thing right now.”
He emphasized the need to prioritize funding so that road projects benefit the region economically.
“So, to answer your question, it’s coming,” Bevin told him. “That’s a gray and fuzzy answer to tell you, but you can take comfort in the fact that you see we’re spending tens of million of dollars every year, every single year, continuing to expand it outward, and we’re trying to figure out where we can get the best bang for the buck.”
Campbell referenced reports about the possibility of the road moving to U.S. 460, which connects Salyersville to Paintsville, instead of expanding it to Prestonsburg. The Floyd County Fiscal Court addressed the possibility in April, with officials reporting that Bevin was seeking to move the alignment of that road from Prestonsburg to Paintsville. At the time, transportation cabinet official reported that “there is a push by some people to shift the alignment” of the parkway, but that nothing had been “approved, finalized or funded” for either route.
Bevin said making changes like that to a road project would require engineering and environmental studies that would take time.
“It takes years and years,” he said. “So, the idea that something is just going to up and be switched from what has already been approved, is not likely to happen.”
Campbell asked him to clarify his answer.
“So as far as you know and you’re concerned, it’ll come to Prestonsburg?” he said.
Bevin diverted the question.
“This is the first political job I’ve ever had,” Bevin said, prompting laughter from the audience. “I know what the right answer is, but I don’t want to sit here and blow smoke at you. That is the plan. That is what we’re working toward, trying to accomplish, is the tie-in all of these things.”
Campbell said Floyd County residents want the road to come to Prestonsburg.
“The one thing I’m never going to do, I don’t need this job enough to lie to you in order to get it or in order to keep it,” Bevin said. “What I’m telling you is we’re working to make this happen and we’ll do it to the best of our ability, but it’s driven by, and I’ll segway off of this in some measure. Let’s talk about road funds.”
He talked about revenues from the state’s gas tax.
“That’s not enough. It’s not enough to be able to do what you’re asking for,” he said. “There’s no way I could say here with a straight face and go yes, in the next two years, it’s going to happen, or whatever. Because we don’t have the money. We don’t. We’re trying to use the limited money we have to prudently spend it in ways that will get the greatest return.”
He said Kentucky needs to see “changes” to the fuel tax.
“So, we are going to have to see changes to the fuel tax. It’s going to come,” he said. “It just has to happen and nobody wants to talk about it. Nobody wants to admit that it has to happen. Nobody wants to be on record saying they’re for it. But there’s no other place to get the money. There just isn’t. It’s going to come from us. If we want certain things, we are going to have to pay for them.”
Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty, D-Martin, also asked Bevin about the Ky. 680 connector between Harold and Minnie, a project that is about two miles short of completion. The fiscal court has also addressed this project numerous times, with officials alleging that Bevin pulled funding. Laferty wanted to know whether there was discretionary funding available for that project.
“Yeah. This is a good point, and let me touch on this real quick,” Bevin said. “The road plan you hear about, some of you who have been around for a while know that you used to be told by people who’d run for office, they’d say, ‘Hey, we’ll put it in the road plan. It’s in the road plan.’ Well, there are things that have been in the road plan for 20 years and they never seem to come out of the road plan.”
He said there was only a “few dimes for every dollar” that had been promised in the road plan when he was elected, but he pledged that “if its in the two- or six-year road plan now, it will get done.”
“There’s still eight percent more promises than there should have been, but we’ve been dialing it down,” Bevin said.
Laferty asked whether the timeline could be shortened.
“Potentially,” he said, referencing SHIFT, a program the state uses to prioritize road funding.
When asked about the Mountain Parkway project after the event, Bevin talked about $80 million allotted recently for segments in other counties. He also emphasized the need for other types of infrastructure, like water, sewer and broadband.
“These things need to come too, and so it’s all, it’s chicken and egg a little bit,” he said. “We’re investing a lot right now, if you notice, a lot, in both broadband connectivity, but also sewer and water because if we get those things, then that will justify building highways in here because people will need to get to and from.”