Kentucky cities communicated the commonwealth’s infrastructure needs with members of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) on Friday through a virtual meeting organized by the Kentucky League of Cities. The discussion centered on local transportation, utility, and broadband needs throughout the state and how federal investments could better meet those needs.
White House officials outlined various components of the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure package that would invest in roads, bridges, rail, broadband, drinking water, child care, and more. The plan devotes more than $600 billion for transportation infrastructure, including $115 billion to repair roads and bridges.
Referencing the Brent Spence Bridge that spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, Policy Advisor Evan Wessel said, “A single bridge can impact an entire region. One crack in a bridge is not just about safety, it really is an economic driver for an entire region.”
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer agreed that funding is key for the Brent Spence Bridge, but he argued the project involves much more than structural fixes. “There is no doubt that the bridge needs improvement,” said Mayor Meyer, “but it’s the fundamental design and the solution they’ve come up with” that presents problems. He referenced planning issues that could lead to significant congestion on and around Interstate 75.
White House staff noted that transportation issues affect all communities. “There’s a range of needs, whether its rural needs in rural investment in bridges, and also those that are real anchors of commerce,” said IGA Deputy Director Gabriel Amo. Kentucky has 1,033 bridges and over 1,322 miles of highway rated in poor condition.
IGA officials also asked to hear more about how water and broadband challenges may be compounded by lack of federal investment. “When we talk about infrastructure, it cannot just be surface transportation,” said Amo.
Jeffersontown Mayor and KLC Immediate Past President Bill Dieruf discussed digital inclusion efforts within Louisville Metro that focuses on connectivity, digital skills, and hardware needs. “The funding is crucial,” said Mayor Dieruf. “We need to have the funding to move the plan forward.”
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which Congress passed in March, will also provide funding for water, sewer, and broadband projects as well as COVID-19 mitigation efforts and government services based on lost revenue. The Department of the Treasury issued guidance and frequently asked questions on Monday, and the comment period has officially opened.
KLC Executive Director/CEO J.D. Chaney noted that the guidance excludes utility revenue from lost revenue calculations and advocated to change that interpretation. The broadband portion also limits digital inclusion efforts. Amo encouraged KLC and individual cities to submit comments about the rule through July 16, 2021.
“In my 20 years at the League, this is the first time that the White House Intergovernmental Affairs team has reached out particularly to engage a group of Kentucky city officials,” said Chaney. “We’re really grateful for you all doing that and being willing to listen to the leaders of our cities here in Kentucky.”