Beshear's road plan screws rural areas
A casual perusal of the new road plan unveiled late Thursday by the Beshear administration shows that rural areas come out on the short end of the stick.
Indeed, many projects in rural areas that have been backed by past governors of Beshear's own party have been omitted. Most of these projects were still in the preliminary stages (design and right-of-way appraisal) and were a long way from actual construction, but anyone familiar with the road-building process knows that it's a lengthy journey from conceptualization to the first blast of dynamite or the first roar of a bulldozer.
Even though Democrat governors like Jones and Patton had pushed many of these projects, it's probably no coincidence that many of these projects are in Republican counties and in areas that have been long neglected by the state and need a shot in the arm for economic development and highway safety.
Some of the omitted projects are in the districts of key Republican senators, such as Robert Stivers and Tom Jensen, and the legislature has not had the chance to weigh in on Beshear's proposal. We have no doubt that many projects, included in past plans but omitted from this one, will be re-inserted. And when local county judges and the voters learn that projects their communities have been depending on for years -- and many for which state money has already been spent on preliminaries -- have been cancelled, changes will have to be made.
The excuses used for this gutting of the rural areas' road projects are that Lexington needs highway improvements for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, and Louisville needs money for the Ohio River bridges project. Rural areas are already voicing resentment that they have to sacrifice to placate Lexington and a bunch of once-in-a-lifetime visitors from Europe.
And as for the Louisville bridges, we agree that an East End bridge is needed. The lack of one is a glaring gap in the interstate system as it now exists. But we don't understand why there is a need for legislation enabling local tolling authorities. Why can't the state build the bridge and connector routes using the same tolling mechanism used to build the Mountain, Blue Grass, Western Kentucky and other parkways? Surely that ability is still in place and hasn't been rescinded since the tolls were taken off the last two Kentucky turnpikes (Audubon and Green River) a couple of years ago.
Reaction to Beshear's highway plan has been muted because less than 24 hours later, he unveiled his casino gambling proposal. But we predict that when rural officials and residents learn just how many road projects have been cancelled in their areas, there'll be a public outcry.
And with good reason. Many rural officials and voters expressed a fear that after finally having some attention paid to them in the years that Ernie Fletcher was governor, they'd be neglected again if Beshear won. Their fears have come to pass. Beshear won, Fletcher lost, and the malignant neglect has already begun.