The Johnson County Fiscal Court welcomed visiting speakers from the state transportation cabinet to the regular monthly meeting on Monday, including Highway District 12 chief engineer Mary Westfall-Holbrook and rural and municipal aid commissioner Gray Tomblin.
Tomblin addressed the fiscal court to discuss, both in broad terms and more specifically, what the rural and municipal aid department does and how its programs can help Johnson County.
Tomblin said the plans put forth by Gov. Matt Bevin seek to grow Kentucky’s economy and make it a home for global manufacturing, a demand that requires improvements to infrastructure, including to the state’s roads.
“In order to continue our economic development and success, we need to have a strong infrastructure,” Tomblin said. “If you compare Kentucky to Tennessee, we’re basically the same square mileage but we have double the bridges and double the highway miles. We have over 14,000 bridges, 53,000 county road miles and 27,000 state highway miles.”
Tomblin said Kentucky is also home to only 4.4 million residents, whereas Tennessee and other similarly-sized states like Indiana have closer to 7 million residents, meaning Kentucky has to maintain more roads with a smaller tax base.
Because counties are limited in their funding, Tomblin said, it’s up to the state’s transportation cabinet to work with Kentucky’s 120 counties to maintain roads and help with problem roads. This year, so far, has also been the worst in 15 years for emergency funds due to weather, Tomblin said.
The department has county road aid, flex funds, emergency funds and discretionary funds, some distributed annually, some on basis of need, and some as part of the years-long plan. The important thing, Tomblin said, was that the county take advantage of as many funding outlets as possible, as the local goals for safe roads and economic development mirror the state’s goals.
Mary Westfall-Holbrook with Highway District 12 in Pikeville also spoke to the fiscal court about the recent announcement of work on Ky. 1428, connecting U.S. 23 with Depot Road in downtown Paintsville. After a slide, the road has been closed for several years.
“We will be moving equipment in Wednesday, if possible, and begin removing slide material. We’re anticipating approximately three months of work before it’s open to traffic,” Westfall-Holbrook said. “But on behalf of the transportation cabinet, I would like to express thanks to the Johnson County Fiscal Court and all the citizens of Johnson County, for your patience. I know that it’s been a long time, but we appreciate those that have been patient with us, as we did the best we could within the legal system.”
Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie said the Ky. 1428 announcement was a perfect example of road work that can help economically for businesses in Paintsville, and help with safety, as emergency responders can get across that area more efficiently.
Other local projects upcoming include work on Ky. 40, Ky. 1107 and Ky. 2275.
County commissioners Tim Salyer and Mike Jarrell asked the assembled representatives if work was planned, or what other funding opportunities would be available, for Ky. 172 and for the damaged section of road on Ky. 40 near Boonscamp. Neither of those are currently scheduled for work, though a section of Ky. 172 is under consideration with four others for submission to the state’s next Six Year Highway Plan.