Secretary Jim Gray Provides Updates on Kentucky Transportation “Mega-Projects”

Structure of concrete and iron that will be the base of a bridge

Presenting to the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation Wednesday in Frankfort, Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray told legislators that the Cabinet is delivering on its commitment to move forward with three mega projects across the state.

The mega projects include completion of the Mountain Parkway in eastern Kentucky, construction of the I-69 bridge from Evansville, IN to Henderson, KY, and the construction of the Brent Spence corridor project and bridge, connecting northern Kentucky to Ohio.

Gray provided status updates of each of the three projects, citing the Brent Spence Bridge as the most highly anticipated.

“This is the first time we’ve had what I would describe as a bona fide shot at getting this project done in the last 15 years since we’ve been talking about it,” Gray said of the Brent Spence Bridge. “We are making a focused effort in the first grant application for the mega projects on Brent Spence, and we’ve already applied for $1.66 billion in federal funding for the estimated $3 billion project.”

Gray said Kentucky, in partnership with Ohio, submitted the application for the first round of funding for the Brent Spence Bridge with over 200 letters of support from lawmakers, government officials, and the private sector.

“If any project has earned federal support, it is the Brent Spence Bridge,” Gray said. “Our goal is to be able to let the project mid-year in 2023 with groundbreaking in the fall of 2023. The second grant application for the bridge investment project will be submitted in August.”

Gray also said that the I-69 project in Henderson is underway and on schedule.

“We’re working with Indiana to put together a plan where we might be able to accelerate this project,” said Gray. “Right now, the plan calls for the actual construction of the bridge to begin in 2027. But both Indiana and Kentucky have a real interest in accelerating the project if at all possible.”

The Transportation Secretary highlighted a $400 million investment last year from Pratt Paper to create 320 new jobs in Henderson as an example of the economic benefits realized when the state commits to investing in infrastructure.

Gray also said the Mountain Parkway was coming along as planned, mentioning a $97 million contract awarded in the spring to construct an 11-mile segment from Campton to Helechawa, which will double travel lanes and modernize a pair of interchanges in the area.

“We are committed to seeing the Mountain Parkway completed and expanding the parkway from Salyersville to Prestonsburg, which is another 14 miles,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke on the impacts of inflation and supply chain challenges impacting the day-to-day progress of the cabinet regarding other road fund projects provided in Kentucky’s transportation budget.

“These are extraordinary times,” Gray said. “I don’t know of anyone who was forecasting eight percent inflation this time last year. But despite all the challenges and volatility we’ve seen, I assure you the road program is being managed efficiently and effectively.”

According to Gray, overall rising costs have made for somewhat of a moving target when letting road projects, citing a 46-percent increase in the Kentucky Asphalt Price Index since January of this year, up from $525 per liquid ton to $768 today. He also said that many contractors told the cabinet that their suppliers were only guaranteeing prices for 30 days out.

“Kentucky topped $1 billion in lettings for road projects in 2021, up from about $800 million in 2020,” Gray said. “This year our lettings are just under $527 through May, and we’re projected to allow more than $1 billion in lettings by year’s end.”

Stay tuned to The Bottom Line for more updates.

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Manager of Public Affairs, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

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