Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Road projects may be halted

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kentucky's continuing budget woes might halt or delay some of the 15 planned Northern Kentucky road construction projects, a Transportation Cabinet official said.

Transportation officials said the state has spent the cash reserve in the Road Fund, a billion-dollar yearly account that pays for highway construction and maintenance.

Projects that could be affected include the widening of Ky. 17 in Kenton County, the construction of an off ramp on Interstate 471 at Ky. 8 in Campbell County, and the widening of Turfway Road in Boone County.

"The situation is that basically we are running out of cash," Deputy State Highway Engineer Mike Hancock said. "As we look ahead these are in the greatest danger of being delayed."

The delays mean motorists could face construction zones for months longer than planned on some of the 300 state-funded projects being worked, and other congested roads scheduled for improvements won't see relief anytime soon.

Hancock said it's too early to say what jobs will be curtailed in mid-construction. But he said eight large projects under way around the state and about 35 scheduled for bid this summer are at risk.

Gov. Paul Patton, who leaves office Dec. 8, has warned about the approaching slowdown since the 2000 General Assembly rejected his proposal to raise the gasoline tax. At the same time it rejected the tax increase, the legislature told the Transportation Cabinet to build dozens of additional projects that Patton had intended to finance with the higher tax.

Lawmakers designated other funding to get started on the expanded program - cash reserves that then exceeded $700 million in the Road Fund. Those reserves are expected to run dry at the end of the year, Hancock told the legislature's Transportation Committee last week.

"It's not a matter of if this is going to happen. It's a matter of when," he said.

State Highway Engineer Mac Yowell told the committee that officials have put clauses in construction contracts "that will allow us to stop work on a project if we're not able to pay the contractor."

"Stopping a project and then starting it back up is expensive," said Charles Lovorn, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Highway Contractors. "... And it leaves the public stranded with more cones and barrier walls until we have the money to go back in."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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