Kentucky CARES Act transportation funds nearly gone

The state has spent much of the federal money allotted to Kentucky transportation projects in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Secretary Jim Gray, Kentucky allocated $60.5 million of CARES Act funds for rural transit and $77 million for the aviation industry.

At Tuesday’s hearing of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation, Secretary Gray said Kentucky used $55 million of rural transit funds. The remaining $5.5 million awaits National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review.

Rural transit grants benefited 108 counties but did not cover the three largest Kentucky transit systems in Louisville, Lexington, and northern Kentucky. Additionally, the grants did not cover small urban transit systems. Those agencies could apply directly with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to draw from a different bucket of CARES funding.

“For many of these public transit agencies, federal transit grant programs are the difference between staying in business and going out of business,” testified Gray.

Gray said agencies quickly used the money for operational and administrative expenses. Approved uses included fuel purchases and obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees who remained on the front lines. Inter-city services that connected to rural areas were also eligible. Later in the approval process, the money covered some capital expenditure projects, including new construction and renovations, equipment upgrades, onboard security cameras, global positioning satellite (GPS) systems, transit vehicles, electronic ticketing, and office supplies.

In April, Kentucky allotted airports $77 million in CARES Act funding to offset losses due to a significant decrease in air travel in the early months of the pandemic. According to Secretary Gray, 95% of those funds went to the commonwealth’s five commercial airports. Airports in northern Kentucky, Louisville, Lexington, Owensboro, and Paducah received approximately $75 million.

Gray testified that, of the four state-owned airports, Capital City Airport in Frankfort received the largest sum ‒ about $69,000.

KYTC REAL ID Project Manager Sarah Jackson updated legislators on implementation of the federal program. She reported that the federal government delayed the deadline for a REAL ID to board airplanes until May 3, 2023.

Since about 50% of Kentucky driver’s license holders cycle through renewal every two years, Jackson expressed confidence that all Kentuckians will be prepared by the new date.

Kentucky continues to gradually transfer driver’s licensing services from circuit clerks to regional driver’s license offices. Officials expect to complete that process by June 30, 2022, with 20 counties already transitioned.

According to Jackson, Kentucky has issued 190,000 REAL IDs. Early estimates expected 30% to 40% of Kentuckians to request a REAL ID. Jackson said her agency now projects 65% of all licensed Kentucky drivers will choose it over the standard license.

Lawmakers voiced concern about some areas needing better access to license services as the commonwealth transitions to regional offices. KYTC officials insisted that they will connect with local leaders to find locations for “pop-up” license offices for those with transportation or internet connectivity issues.