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House panel OKs road plan

BY ADAM BEAM Associated Press

FRANKFORT - House Democrats pushed through a two-year, $4.5 billion road spending plan on Tuesday that Republicans said was designed to punish them for their votes against a gas tax increase.

Most of the money comes from the federal government and bonds. Lawmakers had just over $1 billion in state money to spend on road construction. But the plan from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear called for close to $2 billion in state spending. House Democrats cut that list to $1.2 billion, and last week voted to raise the gas tax by 1.5 cents per gallon to help pay for the difference.

Republicans loudly opposed the gas tax increase last week. And when they got their first look at the road funding bill Tuesday morning, Republicans noticed many of the projects in their districts were not funded.

House Minority Whip Joseph Carney, R-Campbellsville, noted a $43.2 million project in his district was removed, he said, "purely based on revenge from the majority leadership."

"It's a disgrace to be a member of this body today," Carney told his colleagues before a committee vote on Tuesday.

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville and the lead author of the House plan, denied targeting Republican projects. She pointed out several projects - including a $35 million interchange in Scott County and a $42 million bypass in Clark County - in Republican House districts that received funding.

"Our ultimate goal was to come up with a billion dollars, and we managed to find $800 million. We had to find them from somewhere," Combs said. "The road plan we presented is very well spread out across the entire commonwealth, it accommodates all of the constituents across the commonwealth and does some great projects."

The road plan includes $123 million for the Mountain Parkway, a four lane highway that would connect eastern Kentucky - where Combs is from - with the rest of the state. That's $129 million less than Beshear recommended. But Combs spread the project out over 10 years to make it cheaper.

"We've waited 50 years, we can wait a couple more," Combs said. "That's $129 million we managed to put elsewhere."

And the plan delayed a $10.3 million project to widen a portion of Kentucky 36 near the proposed site of a theme park based on the Biblical story of Noah's Ark. State Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, said the park is scheduled to begin construction in May and be finished in 2016.

"It only makes sense to do this road project while they are building the park instead of having the park open in 2016 and then cause all of the hassle with redoing the exchange," Linder said. "No matter what your feelings are on the park, it is a tourist attraction that is going to bring hundreds of thousands of people from other states."

The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled state Senate.

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