For Newport and Campbell County, ongoing 'Pause 50' a frustrating roadblock to development

Kentucky budget measure impacts Route 9 ambitions
For Newport and Campbell County, ongoing 'Pause 50' a frustrating roadblock to development
Posted at 12:46 PM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-23 12:46:43-05

NEWPORT, Ky. -- The remaining five blocks that would complete Route 9 through Newport has, at least temporarily, been shut down by the state.

It's a move that's upsetting county and city officials. The short stretch would complete a corridor that has been envisioned for more than 25 years and that started with the construction of the Taylor-Southgate Bridge in 1995.

Route 9 is among the projects for 2017 and 2018 that were put on "Pause 50" by the state in June when the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet came up against a shortage of funds. The state anticipates only $50 million will be available to fund projects in 2017-18 fiscal year. It's unknown which state-funded projects will be refunded first or when.

For city manager Tom Fromme, it's disappointing.

"If they freeze or pause this money again next year, then how long will that be? How long will that put everything off?" he said. "I'm worried that it can be put off and it can slow everything."

Fromme said another $1 million in local street repaving projects, most connecting to the new Route 9, have also been paused.

Not only does the route connect to Downtown Cincinnati, alleviating traffic along the western Interstate 75 corridor and the Brent Spence Bridge, but it is a prime area of development for Newport.

"Ovation has been heating up with interest with the road" nearing completion, said Fromme. "It's unknown what kind of impact this could have."

Ovation is a $1 billion mixed-use project that has been in the works for 10 years. Route 9 would provide easy access to the site from the south.

Campbell County Judge Executive Steve Pendery said "it's an awful prospect to have a $4 million segment stop the whole thing. The Route 9 project "really ought to be the very last one on a pause list."

It was a $30 million project to put a four-lane highway through Wilder, which connected to Route 9, he said. "It was done with the idea of establishing a corridor through Newport."

The county and the city will lobby to be put back on the list, said Pendery. A meeting with the transportation cabinet is already set for early December.

Neither Newport nor Campbell County knew Route 9 was on the list until late July. The project is already complete up to 9th Street in Newport and only has to reach the 4th Street roundabout, still under construction, to be complete.

"Most people didn't think it affected their project," said Bob Yeager, chief district engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 6 Office. "Right now we have five to six times the (number of) projects than what we have money for."

Construction won't start up again on state road projects until at least July, and some projects will likely be on hold much longer, said Yeager.

Slashes in the gas tax have hurt the bottom line for Kentucky. The 6.5-cent drop in the gas tax, which is tied to the price of gas, put the state road fund at a critical level by June. Expenses from 2014-2016 totaled $5.035 billion, exceeding revenues by $498 million.

The gas tax, what Yeager calls a usage fee for roads, is currently at 26 cents per gallon and is not expected to change in 2017 or 2018, which means that revenue will continue to be down.

All 2017 and 2018 road projects funded by the state that were not under an active contract were put on pause, no matter the phase of construction. The pause affects nearly $207 million of projects in District 6 alone. There are 12 districts across the state.

Even Yeager wasn't aware of how many projects would be affected. "I was a little surprised at everything going on pause," he said. "But how do you pick and choose?"

Yeager said residents may still see road projects continuing. Those would be federally funded, such as work on bridges of interstates.

The cabinet's districts will be asked to prioritized their projects using criteria the state gives them, Yeager said. "When you consider all districts, it's a lot of money," he said.