Environment

Kentucky’s infrastructure is falling apart faster than the pace of investment, based on the latest grade from the American Society for Civil Engineers.

If the commonwealth were graded on a curve, it would still be doing better than the country as a whole, which received a “D+” on its last report card; whereas Kentucky squeaked past this year with a “C-“.

But overall, Kentucky’s lack of investment in aging infrastructure mirrors that of the rest of the country, said Tom Rockaway, chair for Kentucky’s 2019 infrastructure report card.

“Kentucky is following a lot of similar trends. We are asking our infrastructure to do more and more and more and providing it less and less and less in terms of support,” Rockaway said.

The report cards are based on a cumulative score of 10 individual categories including things like drinking water systems, levees, roads and garbage dumps.

For example, Kentucky got a “B+” in the energy category, in part, because the price of energy in Kentucky is the sixth lowest in the United States.

But again, Paul Maron with the American Society for Civil Engineers said Kentucky’s rating was half a grade worse than the last time it received a report card in 2011, because investment has failed to keep up with the state’s declining infrastructure.

“The main thing that led to the drop in the overall ranking from 2011 to today is those assets are now seven or eight years older, and without renewed, increased investment that deterioration is just continuing to take place,” Maron said.

Take hazardous waste, for example. Kentucky projects it would cost $1.6 billion to clean up old hazardous waste sites, but the state only has an annual budget of $450,000 for cleanup.

For that reason, Kentucky received its lowest score, a “D”, for hazardous waste, according to the report card.

The state only scored marginally better on its levees, receiving a “D+”. That’s because nearly half the state’s inventory of levees are 50 years or older and are beyond their expected design life, according to the report card. That’s also true in Louisville where many of the mechanical and electrical components that make up the system’s flood pumping stations are also deteriorating.

Meanwhile, the state’s drinking and wastewater systems received a “C+” and a “C-“, respectively. Despite making significant strides with programs like the Drinking Water Advisory Council, which provides input to the state’s smaller water systems, Division of Water Director Peter Goodmann said the state needs $14 billion over the next 20 years for the upkeep of dams, drinking water and wastewater systems.

“… And the current investment rate through local bonding issues, federal grants and loans and private investment falls significantly short of meeting that investment need,” Goodmann said.

As for the state’s roads, Kentucky recently agreed to provide $8.5 billion over the next six years for a Highway Plan that includes more than 1,400 projects. But again, the state only received a “D+” in part because the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently identified another $6 billion in unfunded construction projects.

The American Society for Civil Engineers also included a couple of key takeaways for Kentucky:

  • Invest in a multi-modal freight network for major companies that are already here including Amazon, UPS and FedEX in order to retain a competitive advantage.
  • Address the needs of rural communities who lack the population density to pay for maintenance and upkeep of aging roads, drinking water and wastewater systems.

In summary, the American Society for Civil Engineers said Kentucky needs to take a look at the big picture and invest in the state’s aging infrastructure in a way that meets the needs of today, and addresses the challenges of tomorrow.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.