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Though legislators spent much of the last session of the General Assembly finding ways to pinch pennies, they found enough cash in state coffers to fund several local road projects.
For the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the state has set aside $6.3 million to fund three highway projects here:
• $4.4 million to buy rights of way and utility construction for the widening of Ky. 1848 (Buck Creek Road) from I-64 to U. S. 60.
• $1 million for the design phase of widening Ky. 53 (Mount Eden Road) from I-64 to U. S. 60
• $920,000 for work that will add a turn lane and widen shoulders at Ky. 395 (Waddy Road) near the Flying J truck stop.
In addition to that, $17 million in federal money will be used for the first phase of widening of I-64 to three lanes from the Shelby/Jefferson county lines to just west of the eastbound rest stop.
“These things were part of the Six-year Plan, but sometimes they just sit there for a while,” state Rep. Brad Montell said. “With this money we should really be able to move major projects forward.”
Of the four major road projects on tap, only the work on Ky. 395 is certain to have residents seeing dirt fly this year.
State Sen. Gary Tapp said bids are scheduled to be let on the I-64 widening project, but he could not predict when actual construction may begin. The bids, scheduled to be let in April, will be for the first phase of the widening of the interstate to three lanes for approximately five miles into the west side of the county. The state will widen both east- and westbound lanes.
Once the interstate is widened, the state will turn its attention to improving the bridges, overpasses and ramps, Tapp said.
The widening of Ky. 1848 and Ky. 53 from the interstate to U. S. 60 is still a long way from turning dirt. The $4.4 million the General Assembly included in the 2009 budget buys land and pays for utility lines to be removed along the approximately 1-mile stretch of Ky. 1848. The plan is to widen that portion to five lanes.
The $1 million for the widening of Ky. 53 to five lanes between U. S. 60 and the interstate pays engineers to develop a working plan for that segment.
“That gets that project moving along,” Montell said. “It's no longer a pipe dream.”
Money for construction of both the Ky. 1848 and Ky. 53 widening projects will have to come from future budgets.
Actual construction will get under way this spring on the Ky. 395 project. The state finished widening the bridge and repairing the overpass last year. This year's work will widen shoulders, add a left turn lane onto the interstate and realign a portion of the road in front of the truck stop.
Both state and local road projects got a boost during the last session when the General Assembly agreed to freeze the state's gas tax at 22.2 cents per gallon, rather than allowing it to drop to 18.2 cents. The state tax is pegged to the per-gallon cost of gasoline. As the price of gasoline fell from summer 2008 highs, the tax was scheduled to drop 4 cents per gallon. That drop would have cost the state $130 million in revenue for its road fund.
Shelby County Judge Executive Rob Rothenburger said the drop in state tax would have hurt local road projects as well as state road projects. He estimated the county would have lost $150,000 to $200,000 in road aid from Frankfort if state road revenues declined. The county's road budget is about $2.1 million, and about $850,000 of that comes from the state.
Montell said legislators felt they had to fund the state's road projects.
“Providing good roads is one of the most fundamental things we need to do,” Montell said.