Are There Any Innovative Projects For Transportation In Kentucky?

KBT's mission is to educate and advocate for a safe, sustainable transportation network that brings improved quality of life and economic development opportunities to all Kentucky communities. In order for us to achieve our mission, I spend quite a bit of time out in the state talking to people about how important their transportation network is, why we need to maintain it, and why we need to improve it.

After my presentation, I get a lot of questions on everything from technology in transportation to where funding comes from and why we use it as we do.

Earlier this week I was asked if there was any discussion about new, major, more modern and innovative projects in the state for any mode of transportation.

Sadly, to my knowledge, the answer is no.

Not that technologies aren't changing and that we won't need or value innovation and new forms of transportation - it's just that we've got so many existing needs both in construction and maintenance on our current infrastructure that we can't focus on anything new.

And, if something isn't changed, we could be at our peak today.

What I mean by that is that we are woefully underfunded when it comes to maintenance on our current infrastructure. We need an additional $200 million per year in our current maintenance program just to maintain our existing roads and bridges. We still need an additional $40 million to update the pavements at our general aviation airports. Our 8 operating public riverports have applied for more than $1 billion in projects when only $500,000 per year is available. Some of our transit systems need buses today just to serve the riders they have - not to grow their current systems.

It's hard to think about how we can do pilot projects or look at new smart technologies that will have an impact on our population in the future when we have potholes we need to patch today.

Now - don't get me wrong. We've done so much in the state - and we have a multi-modal transportation infrastructure that we should be proud of. We've just completed one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country. We've also got a statewide transit network - an awesome accomplishment for a rural state. And, we've wisely taken advantage of our inland river network by having 8 operating public ports and more than 100 private terminals. Our 2,600 freight rail miles move millions of tons of agricultural products, mined aggregates, and manufactured products across the country. We've also got an incredible aviation and aerospace community that provides access for people and for international freight movement.

But we need so much more just to serve our population today - and if you don't believe me just do a quick run up I-75 to Cincinnati or go ask TARC how many buses they need today or ask the airports what kinds of improvements they need to be able to better serve their clientele.

So many things are going to change over the next decade - from automated personal and commercial vehicles to drones to car sharing to on demand transit - we have to be ready. And getting ready will take investments. We can't expect the buses of today to serve the population in 10 years. We can't expect the rural roads we have today to move the driverless cars of the future. We can't expect our airports to house both our commercial and private planes as well as manage the increased drone traffic we expect to see.

I hope we can get to a point where we can easily maintain all we have - and that we can focus on what we need for the future and implement innovative projects that set us apart from other states. I hope we find a way to fund infrastructure in Kentucky so we can maintain all we have while we prepare for the technologies of the future.

I hope we look forward to what we can do - and that we don't look back wondering what could have been.