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New list of road projects due today

Top lawmakers said they expect to unveil the latest draft of a major list of Kentucky road construction projects Wednesday.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said senators have been in long talks with Gov. Steve Beshear's Transportation Cabinet and will release their edited version of the plan, which the House worked on last week.

"We understand that the Senate has not done any harm to the House proposal, simply added roads and bridges that were important to them," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Lawmakers have been cobbling together the plan behind closed doors for three weeks as they selected, prioritized and figured out how to fund a slew of road projects, many of which have been on the drawing board for years.

Meanwhile, Beshear made a rare trip to the third floor of the Capitol to huddle with House Democratic leaders about the plan, as well as a proposal to work with Indiana to fund and manage bridges over the Ohio River.

Neither Beshear nor legislative leaders would say how much spending on road construction projects the plan contains or how many of those projects can be paid for over the next 16 months, when the current two-year state budget expires.

Kentucky is scheduled to receive $421 million in federal money for road construction from the stimulus bill Congress approved last month. Half of that must be used on projects ready to begin in the next 120 days, while the rest must be spent within the year, said Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

In addition, both Williams and Stumbo said they expect lawmakers to freeze the current state gas tax of 21.1 cents a gallon instead of letting it drop by 4 cents as expected. The gas tax is supposed to be tied to wholesale gas prices, which have dropped sharply during the past six months.

Each penny from the tax translates to about $32 million.

Without that money, many road projects would be slashed from the plan, Stumbo said. But some lawmakers want to see the road plan before they commit to keeping the tax at its current level, Stumbo said.

He also hinted that the state could leverage some of the tax money by selling bonds.

"The state would get a better bang for its dollar quickly if we could begin doing some of those projects," he said. "I'm not opposed to bonding."

As for the bridge plan, House Democrats crafted a bill that would create a state authority to oversee local bridge authorities, which would form to create financing and construction plans for bridges over the Ohio River between Indiana and Kentucky, said Rep. Don Pasley, D-Winchester.

The plan would allow the authorities to implement tolls that would pay for the bridges.