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Better roads, bridges: Why infrastructure investment is key to Kentucky’s economic growth.

Aerial view of the Brent Spence Bridge

The Brent Spence Bridge carries I-75 and I-71 across the Ohio River at Cincinnati. When it was built in 1963 it carried 80,000 vehicles a day, now more than 170,000 cross it daily.
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The Brent Spence Bridge carries I-75 and I-71 across the Ohio River at Cincinnati. When it was built in 1963 it carried 80,000 vehicles a day, now more than 170,000 cross it daily.

Kentucky is in a prime spot — within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population. That makes the Commonwealth a key site for industries needing to transport products across the country.

In fact, University of Kentucky economists report more than a quarter of the state’s economy is made up of industries highly dependent on transportation. National surveys of corporate executives rank highway accessibility as the top factor in business location decisions. All of that means transportation infrastructure maintained in top condition is a key requirement for a healthy economy.

A March 2016 Gallup poll found 75% of Americans favored spending more money to improve infrastructure (including roads, buildings and waterways). Infrastructure — especially roads, bridges and airports — is particularly important to Kentucky’s economy because of the Commonwealth’s prime location.

As the Cabinet for Economic Development notes, Kentucky sits at the center of a 34-state distribution area in the eastern United States. This facilitates the distribution of “goods and materials to a massive industrial and consumer market.” In addition, Kentucky is the nation’s third largest automotive producing state and is home to major logistics companies.

This makes quality infrastructure critical to the success of the Commonwealth’s business community and to the health and growth of its economy. In the last Kentucky Infrastructure Report Card issued by the Kentucky Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Kentucky roads were given a D due to factors that included: congestion and delays, pavement condition, needed improvements and insufficient road funding. As a state heavily dependent on manufacturing that is quickly becoming a logistics hub, we must invest in our infrastructure assets.

Kentucky faces a $1 billion backlog of maintenance and paving, and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has identified $490 million in annual funds is needed to address statewide and regional significant projects. As Kentucky struggles with finding the funds to make improvements and invest in new projects, surrounding states including Indiana and Tennessee have taken proactive steps to ensure their infrastructure resources keep up with the economic development investment they are experiencing.

The provisions of HB 517 are estimated to generate an extra $460 million annually to meet some of the need the Commonwealth faces. Increasing the gas tax slightly and creating new fees would generate significant economic impact as Kentucky improves its infrastructure for current and future businesses.

Kentucky celebrated record-breaking economic investment over the last few years. Pro-growth policies passed during the last few sessions, along with the opportunity federal tax reform brings to Kentucky businesses will continue to spur growth. Kentucky must meet the infrastructure demands these new investments create in order to reach its full potential.

This Op-Ed was signed by Dave Adkisson, President and CEO, Kentucky Chamber; Brent Cooper, President and CEO, Northern Kentucky Chamber; Kent Oyler, President and CEO, Greater Louisville Inc.; Bob Quick, President and CEO, Commerce Lexington.

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