infrastructure

Nicole Erwin

When President Trump picked the Ohio Valley as the setting to promote his infrastructure plan, he also drew attention to an overlooked part of the nation’s transportation system: inland waterways. Agriculture, energy, and manufacturing interests all depend heavily on the Ohio’s aging navigation system.

The president’s speech in Cincinnati cheered many industry leaders who have long been frustrated by costly delays caused by failing locks and dams on the river. But some of the Trump administration’s ideas for changing how the country plans and pays for waterways projects have raised concerns among infrastructure experts.


Despite America's rapt attention on former FBI Director James Comey's testimony, the White House has been observing Infrastructure Week. Infrastructure is one of the only policy areas that could have crossover appeal, but there has been little real movement so far on getting something through Congress.

Wikimedia Commons

President Donald Trump will be across the river from Kentucky today to promote his infrastructure plan.

And if Trump’s previous remarks are any indication, the plan could be heavily influenced by a Kentuckian who’s been dead for 165 years.

In the early 19th century, Kentucky congressman and later senator Henry Clay proposed a system of high taxes on imported goods to fund improvements like roads, canals and bridges. Trump has compared his own philosophy of protectionism to Clay’s.


Ohio Valley ReSource

With a speech planned for Cincinnati’s Ohio River waterfront, President Donald Trump has chosen a fitting venue to talk about infrastructure improvements. The Ohio Valley is home to aging highways, bridges, and dams, poor drinking water systems, and weak internet service for many rural residents.

A report from the American Society of Civil Engineers found that Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia need billions of dollars for improvements to drinking and wastewater systems and have more than 700 dams considered “high hazards.”   


Malcolm Wilson

Nearly half of the people living in rural parts of United States don’t have access to broadband internet, the high speed connection required for common uses many of us take for granted. Government and survey data show that in 65 counties across Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, the majority of residents don’t have access to broadband--that’s one-quarter of all the counties in the three states. 

With the internet continuing to grow in importance for school, work, and for everyday life, many disconnected rural communities see their lack of internet access as an existential threat. Some communities hope that by banding together, communities can find ways to bring fast internet to places it’s never been.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

A public meeting is being held Wednesday evening about the next step in repairing Rough River Lake Dam. The 132-foot-high earthen dam helps regulate the reservoir in Breckinridge, Grayson, and Hardin counties.

The dam was installed to reduce flood damage downstream, and is more than 50 years old. Workers are finishing up exploratory grouting along the dam, which confirmed that a cutoff wall needs to be constructed.

“Every year we meet with the public once a year in March or April and we inform them about where we're at with the dam remediation process and what the next step is going to be,” said Diane Stratton, who is the project manager at Rough River Lake and is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The removal of a dam along the Green River in Edmonson County began Tuesday, and will continue over the next few weeks.

Once the dam is removed, the affected part of the Green River will become a recreational area, with parking and access ramps for canoes and kayaks. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funding the project, but will transfer ownership of 18 nearby acres of land to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Lee Andrews, with The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the Green River contains some of the top biodiversity within the Ohio River system.

 

“So being able to restore this much river in a national park is unique,” Andrews said.  

Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet is planning improvements to some of the state’s aging roads and bridges. There are 1,157 structurally deficient bridges according to a new report by The American Society of Civil Engineers.

KYTC spokesperson Ryan Watts said he wasn’t surprised by the report’s findings on the state’s infrastructure needs. The cabinet has plans in place to update and fix those structurally deficient bridges. Watts said Kentucky shares the national burden of addressing the needs of an aging transportation system with limited funds.

“Kentucky’s roads and bridges are safe, but they require significant funding to maintain operability,” Watts said.

US Army Corps of Engineers

Kentucky is receiving mixed reviews in a new report card looking at the nation’s aging infrastructure. The report was issued Thursday by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

One of the major challenges cited in the report is the $6.2 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs in Kentucky over the next 20 years. The state also needs a more than $6 billion investment to meet its wastewater infrastructure needs in the next two decades.

Kentucky motorists on average pay $331 a year due to driving on roads in need of repair. That’s actually a slight improvement since the last infrastructure report card, issued in 2013.

US Army Corps of Engineers

A bill transferring control of infrastructure on the Barren and Green rivers to local communities has passed the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement the legislation will give more control to Kentucky communities and help with flood protection in Paducah.

The bill will transfer control of inoperable locks and dams along Barren and Green rivers from the U.S. Army Corps of engineers to state and local entities. That will allow local communities to do necessary repairs and maintenance.

US Army Corps of Engineers

A recent breakdown at an Ohio River dam served as a wake-up call about the aging infrastructure that keeps river commerce flowing. The Ohio is one of the country’s busiest working rivers and some navigation controls are approaching the century mark. I went to see these ailing structures and a new multi-billion dollar project in the works.

Barges are once again moving through this section of the Ohio near Paducah, Kentucky, after a failure at the aging Lock and Dam Number 52 forced a two-day closure in September.

“It’s one of the busiest locations on the inland waterways,” said Army Corp of Engineers Colonel Christopher Beck. “We pass about 90 million tons of cargo through here every year. So it’s critical to both this region, to industry and the nation.”

Lock and Dam 52 uses wooden structures called wickets that work a bit like a bathtub to keep the river at the depth needed for boat traffic. When three wickets broke free of their bases and even more wouldn’t cooperate, a hole let too much water through. That threatened both navigability and a water intake facility used by nearby chemical manufacturing plants.

Flickr/Creative Commons

Kentucky’s statewide broadband internet project, KentuckyWired, will be complete by mid-2019, according to Gov. Matt Bevin.

The $324 million public-private project is a collaboration between the state and private partners, who will operate and maintain the network for 30 years, charging the state about $28.5 million and up per year. After 30 years, Kentucky will own the network.

During a news conference Friday, Bevin said the project will help make Kentucky the “hub of excellence for America.”

“It cannot happen without broadband, it cannot happen without a strong technological infrastructure,” he said.

The project will stretch 3,000-miles of fiber optic cable to build out the “middle mile” of a statewide broadband network. Cities and businesses across the state will be in charge of building out the “last mile” to connect services to customers.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Doug Kerr

Owensboro is joining the federal interstate system.  The Natcher Parkway will become an interstate spur connecting Owensboro to I-65 in Bowling Green. 

Mayor Ron Payne says the designation has been years in the making and will be a major boost to tourism.

"We have an international bluegrass music center and museum that's under construction, and with our riverfront and all the conventions we're having, I think to finally get Owensboro on that interstate map is really going to be a boost to economic development here," Payne told WKU Public Radio.

Governor Matt Bevin will make the official announcement Friday afternoon at the Owensboro Riverport Authority.  Signage will be unveiled designating the Natcher Parkway as a future interstate spur connector. Bevin is expected to offer more details in the news conference, including a start and end date for the project.

The state budget includes $66 million in construction funds for Daviess, Ohio, Butler, and Warren Counties for upgrading the Natcher Parkway to interstate standards.

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky is working on a multimillion-dollar plan to bring broadband internet to the eastern part of the state, home to some of the country’s most impoverished places. A federal report released this year found that from around a third to nearly half of rural residents in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia lack high-speed internet and the job opportunities that come with it. But a few areas are ahead of the curve. In Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley Counties, broadband has already arrived and is already creating jobs.

With a population of 1,095, Annville, Kentucky is one of the bigger towns in Jackson County. It’s surrounded by grassy fields and rolling hills, which are the inspiration for the county’s tourism slogan: “Where the Mountains and the Bluegrass Blend.

It’s not easy to find a job in Jackson County. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Most people who have jobs work outside the county. For Annville resident Alisha Tanfield, those long costly commutes made it hard to make ends meet. “After you pay gas, you’re not making anything,” she said.

If you’re barely getting by and your livelihood depends on a long commute, car troubles can create a major crisis. When Tanfield’s car broke down she lost what income she had and found herself struggling to provide for her two daughters. Then Tanfield heard about a friend who had found a work-from-home job through the Teleworks USA job board. Tanfield says she’d always been curious about work-from-home jobs but hadn’t tried applying for any because she thought a lot of them are scams.

Ryland Barton, WKU Public Radio

Kentucky’s transportation cabinet has announced that it will pause new road projects over the next fiscal year starting July 1.

According to the cabinet, the “Pause-50” initiative will halt about $145 million in projects to help the state recoup lost revenue, pay current expenditures and rebuild the state road fund.

During a legislative committee hearing on Tuesday, Transportation Cabinet Secretary Greg Thomas said major projects will still move forward.

“We went to the districts, we determined what the priorities were; we also looked at projects that hadn’t fully developed or fully started in terms of the right of way and utility phase, and those were the projects that came up,” he said.

Road resurfacing projects, the Louisville bridges project, construction of the I-69 corridor and bridge replacement projects will still progress.

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