As many of you know the Forest Service has stated many times that they are not able to get enough money from Congress to catch up on road repair. They say they are trying but can’t get completely caught up. I know they usually spend around 500,000 to 600,000 each year. I do know by doing roads in Lyon County that much doesn’t go far.
There is also nearly 3 million in repair waiting on money from the Feds out there from the flooding in 2016 that they are still awaiting payment on so they can start repairs.
I told the Forest Service I would do what I could to find every avenue for more money to help make our roads in LBL, especially those with cemetery access, better and accessible.
When I was in Washington DC, Judge Hollis Alexander and I spoke to everyone we met with about this issue and I left them all letters.
We were fortunate enough to meet with Elaine Choa, Transportation Secretary in Wash DC. That meeting has paid off.
Thomas Nelson, division administrator with the Federal Highway Administration has followed up and set up a meeting that I attended in Frankfort this week.
At the meeting was Thomas Nelson, Tina Tilley and Jeff Laird with the Forest Service, Steve Mills with the Federal Highway Administration, Mike McGregor, District Engineer KYTC was on speaker phone, Patty Dunaway, State Engineer with KYTC, Andy Barber, KYTC, Holly Bell, Federal Lands Highway Administration and Jon Wilcoxson, KYTC.
This meeting was very productive and helpful for us all. Here are the key points learned.
1) The pot of money that has normally been the avenue for extra road money ended in 2012, under the new MAP 21 law, called the Forest Highway Program. Under the Forest Highway program, 75 miles of roads on the Kentucky side of LBL was maintained and mowed and repaired by the KY State Transportation Cabinet. Tennessee DOT did the same. This was put together when the Forest Service took over LBL around 2002 with an agreement between KYTC and the Forest Service to pull from this pot of money. THE BAD PART IS THIS MONEY WILL RUN OUT IN 2019. They basically have enough in this fund to mow till 2019, plus other minor repairs. I didn’t know this and I don’t think the FS knew it either. So the positive is we can start working on finding the new source of money for these 75 miles of road before 2019!
Steve Mills agreed to coordinate the meetings that need to take place but I think we will need to involve our Senators and Congressman to get this done. Since the pot of money the agreement pulled from ended in 2012 with a little residual left we need another pot of money and another MOA between KYTC and FS that maybe Senator McConnell, Paul and Congressman Comer can help us with. So we will be working on that over the coming months and year.
2) Holly shared with us the ways the Forest Service may gain money for LBL roads. One way that Tina Tilley was already aware of and seeks money from is 1 1/2 million given to each region. This is not a large pot of money but they do try to gain from it.
3) Another program the FS was not aware of was with a sweep that takes place occasionally road money not used by other Federal lands could be swept and pushed out to other places in need like LBL. But the FS has to apply for this money. Now that they know of this opportunity Tina Tilley will be sending a letter next week to get in line for this money that may come available from time to time. We were very glad to learn about this opportunity.
4) under the Federal Lands Access Program (flap) the FS can apply for funding but must have a 20% match. That is what Tennessee has used the last year or so to mow within LBL because their money under the old program has run out. KY has enough till 2019 as mentioned. We talked about how the FS in LBL could use their money from congress to pay the 20% if they apply for this pot of money after 2020.
5) ERFO dollars: This is the money that the FS is still awaiting for the damage in the 2016 flooding. Around 3 million total. The good news on this is the President signed off on this money last week. So the money is expected to start rolling in by summer (hopefully). We discussed the problem with this taking so long to get the money. The longer it takes the worse the roads erode.
We were told that the FS has an option called QUICK RELEASE. If they deem the roads to be critical they can apply under quick release and get money much faster. We asked what is required to be critical. Its basically up to the FS. So Tina Tilley believes since the roads to cemeteries are in statute that would count as critical. She will apply for quick release in future. This won’t change the timeframe for the 2016 money but any future storm damages.
In summary it was a positive meeting. Now the FS knows avenues they can attempt to gain money.
The Next Steps are:
– Mrs. Tilley is sending letter to find any sweep money for roads
– Mrs. Tilley will start seeking ways to do the grants that require 20% paid by FS or other entity.
– Mrs. Tilley will be prepared for the next round of FLAP
– Steve Mills will coordinate and include me and FS and I will notify our legislators we need to restart discussions and negotiations between FS and KYTC on future mowing, paving, repairing of the 75 miles of road under the protection act to find a new pot of money before 2019 end of money.
– Quick release and FLTP with region money will be pursued by FS in future.
– I will also work with legislators in DC to see if any chance of a one time push of money to help catch the LBL roads up under either an omnibus bill or appropriation in near future. We are playing catch up on repair in LBL and need an infusion of money to make up for deterioration over the past 20 years.
That’s the latest!