In his latest effort to clean up Kentucky’s transportation system, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Richard K. Mills announced Monday that he’s calling for a federal-state partnership to overhaul the country’s largest road system, which has long been a bottleneck for state highways.
“As we look at the nation’s highways, we have to address the issue of a bottleneck,” Mills said at the Kentucky Department of Transportation (KDOT) conference in Louisville.
“This is a problem that impacts every state.”
Mills, a former state senator and member of the Kentucky General Assembly, said he hopes to establish a “one-stop-shop” to help make highways more efficient and to make them safer for motorists.
A federal transportation commission would coordinate with the Department of Justice, which is tasked with overseeing transportation policies across the country.
The commission would also help establish rules for private companies that operate roads, including the federal government.
“We are all in this together, and it’s time for our state to get involved,” Mills added.
“The way to address this is a federal partnership.”
The announcement follows months of frustration with the Kentucky transportation system.
For the past year, KDOT has been embroiled in a feud with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which has been struggling to make public infrastructure like roads and bridges more efficient.
A number of key transportation projects are in the works, including a $25 million project to improve traffic flow between the new Kentucky Fried Chicken plant and the city of Louisville.
But the project was pushed back amid opposition from DEQ officials who argued that it would cause “unnecessary delays” and “significant cost overruns.”
The Kentucky Transportation Commission also has been battling a series of legal challenges, most recently a lawsuit filed by the Kentucky Transportation Workers Union.
The union argued that the state was trying to force them to accept the project, which they believe is an unfair subsidy to its members.
“What is really going on here is that they have been looking to make things happen for years, years and years without really doing anything, without making any progress,” said Bob Jones, the executive director of the state transportation workers union.
“That’s why the KTMU lawsuit is a huge deal.
The KTMVU was never really involved in the KDVT’s transportation work.
They have been very active on this.”
The KDWT has also been dealing with a series “shutdowns” of public transportation in recent years, which have led to major disruptions for many Kentuckians.
In April, the state shut down its major arteries and interstates for several days in response to a high-speed rail train crash that killed six people.
The shutdowns forced the cancellation of more than 20,000 public events.
“Our state is not a perfect place,” Mills told reporters after the state shutdown.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in our state.
But we have a lot to do, and we have the tools to do it.”
Mills said he would also like to work with private industry to make roads safer.
“If you’re a private company, you’re probably thinking, ‘I can do this better than I can do it now.’
But I am talking to them about ways that they can do more and do better,” he said.
Mills said the federal partnership could be created through the federal Highway Trust Fund.
“They’ve got a very powerful tool,” he added.
But KDNT officials, including Mills, have also pointed to the problems of state-run roads as evidence that the federal Government needs to take a more hands-off approach to the country-wide transportation system in order to avoid an economic disaster.
“You know, we’re not the only ones who are frustrated by this,” Mills noted.
“It’s not just the roads.
We have a broken highway system.
We also have a state-managed system.
And we have failed to provide the infrastructure that we should be providing.
We’ve got to fix this. “
So let’s work together.
We’ve got to fix this.
And I think we can do that with the help of the private sector.”
The federal government has previously proposed a program to help fund Kentucky’s road system.
But there are no details on what kind of funding would be involved in a federal program like this.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transportation, which oversees the Interstate Highway System (I-85), declined to comment.
The Department of Commerce has been coordinating with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Federal Railroad Administration on the federal transportation partnership.