This commentary also was signed by eight other senators and 21 state representatives from Western Kentucky.
By Dorsey Ridley
As legislators who have been involved in the I-69 corridor project for a number of years, we were very disappointed to read the article diminishing the importance of Interstate 69 in Kentucky.
The reporters failed to realize the critical importance of this project to Western Kentucky. Further, they ignored the conclusions of many studies, which found that interstate highways provide significant benefit to a state or region, in terms of safety and economic development.
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Moreover, the Kentucky portion of the I-69 corridor will not require the expense of building a new interstate highway. This is because the I-69 corridor will simply receive an upgrade of the existing Western Kentucky roadway system: Pennyrile Parkway, Western Kentucky Parkway, Interstate 24 and Purchase Parkway.
Findings by national groups demonstrate that the fatality rate for interstates is 60 percent lower than the rest of the system, and injury rates are 70 percent lower. That in itself is a good reason to upgrade the Western Kentucky Parkway system to I-69 standards.
The savings for users are significant as well. A study by the University of Kentucky found that driving a mile on an interstate is 19 cents cheaper than other highways and 38 cents cheaper for trucks.
That's $2,280 a year for the average Kentucky citizen based on 12,000 miles of travel. Imagine the benefits for companies along these interstates.
As a result of these savings, it is clear why locating near an interstate is of paramount concern for most businesses. Talk to any economic development professional, and you'll hear that one of the top three concerns for site selectors is access to quality road transportation.
Economic development experts say the largest business locations are most often within 10 miles of an interstate. Not only do employers locate nearby, but the construction of the interstate opens up new job opportunities for the region's citizens. The same study by UK found that construction of a new highway can have an annual earnings impact of up to $19 million for a county's residents.
These numbers are the reason that Kentucky and Indiana are pushing to complete I-69. The article mentions that Indiana has run out of funding for its last two sections, the Evansville-to- Indianapolis roadway, but Indiana's newly inaugurated Gov. Mike Pence has committed to finishing I-69. Indiana is looking at a various innovative financing tools to complete this critical roadway.
The article raises an important point about preservation of the current system versus focusing on new capacity. The reporters fail to note, however, that completion of the new I-69 bridge between Henderson and Evansville will, in fact, help the current system, too.
There are now two bridges at that location, one carrying northbound and one carrying southbound traffic. The first was built in 1932 and the second in 1966. The bridges are gridlocked at rush hours, operating at the lowest level of efficiency.
The anticipated increase in traffic flow along the upgraded I-69 corridor will dramatically alleviate the pressure on the current system. This isn't a frivolous choice, but one that is necessary to keep the Kentucky economy moving forward.
The reporters' intent was to take a critical view of infrastructure building, but they merely highlighted a much bigger concern that many of us have about our road infrastructure. The reason that funding for the I-69 bridge project has not been identified is that Kentucky and Indiana have been working through a backlog of necessary projects.
The federal gas tax has not changed since 1993 and has 35 percent less purchasing power today. With the costs to build far outpacing the revenues raised, it is no wonder that projects always take several years to build and that states must be creative in finding funding for their projects.
The citizens of Western Kentucky stepped up to build the former parkway system with tolls, allowing federal and state gas taxes to be used on roads elsewhere in the state. It is time the rest of the state recognized the needs of Western Kentucky as well.
Feb. 3 Herald-Leader article "Interstates to nowhere; corridors shaped by political influence; Kentucky keeps spending money on I-66 and I-69 as other states abandon the projects"