Thursday, January 1, 2004

N.Ky. chamber counts ways to find road money



By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT MITCHELL - The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has come up with proposals to help pay for road work in the region.

The chamber has released a "white paper" of recommendations on how the General Assembly could generate more money for roads. The ideas include:

• Increasing the state's gas tax, which at 16.4 cents a gallon is the 46th lowest in the nation. Each penny increase would raise $30 million annually. The chamber has previously called for the increase but said it "is not advocating for or against any of the other revenue options" it has suggested.

• Borrowing up to $600 million by issuing bonds.

• Shifting $80 million to the road fund.

• Increasing vehicle registration fees. Each $1 increase would raise $2.5 million a year. Annual fees in Kentucky are $15 compared to $34.25 in Ohio and $20.75 in Indiana. The fees are separate from the annual tax vehicle owners pay each year in Kentucky.

"Kentucky is at a critical crossroads," the chamber says in the policy paper, released last week. "Infrastructure deterioration is increasing at an accelerating rate.

Northern Kentucky's road needs are staggering.

The costs of road projects for Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in the state's six-year road plan total just more than $227 million.

That figure does not include what many see as the region's No. 1 highway priority, replacement of the Interstate 75 Brent Spence Bridge. Though heavily dependent on federal dollars, the $500-million-to-$750-million project could require a 10 percent contribution from the state.

And the chamber says that each of the counties has developed its own list of road-project priorities outside of the state's six-year plan. Those projects total $3 billion.

"Without adequate investment in our local infrastructure," the 2,000-member business group said, "the prospect of Northern Kentucky's economy reaching its full potential is in doubt."

The state is facing a revenue shortfall of as much as $700 million. Gov. Ernie Fletcher has said he does not favor raising taxes, including the gas tax.

"I disagree with higher taxes, and the chamber is making a mistake in that area," said Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park. "If they want to be a player, they have to go along with administration. Our new governor has said he is not for any new taxes."

Roeding said the idea of issuing bonds has some merit, but the idea has to be fully fleshed out. Lawmakers begin meeting in Frankfort on Tuesday.

Top road priorities

Ky. 237, Boone County, reconstruction and widening, $10 million

Ky. 536, Boone County, reconstruction, $6 million

U.S. 25, Boone County, reconstruction, $11 million

U.S. 27, Campbell County, reconstruction, $24 million

Ky. 9, Campbell County, reconstruction, $3.5 million

John's Hill Road, Campbell County, reconstruction, $3.5 million

Ky. 8 at Interstate 471, Campbell County, new off ramp, $1.9 million

Ky. 17, Kenton County, reconstruction and new construction, $37 million

Ky. 16, Campbell County, reconstruction through Taylor Mill, $39 million

New connector road from Ky. 17 at Highland Pike to Fidelity Investments, Kenton County, $19.3 million

E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com




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