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A Guide To Kentucky Infrastructure



Kentucky is in a prime spot - within a days’ drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population.  That makes the Commonwealth a key site for industries needing to transport products across the country.  In fact, University of Kentucky economists report more than a quarter of the state’s economy is made up of industries highly dependent on transportation.  National surveys of corporate executives rank highway accessibility as the top factor in business location decisions.  All of that means transportation infrastructure maintained in top condition is a key requirement for a healthy economy.

Of course, transportation is just one part of the infrastructure that keeps Kentucky working, producing and growing.  This review takes a look at the current condition of the state’s various infrastructure elements, such as highways, bridges, riverports, utilities and broadband, and identifies needs that would strengthen the state’s structural backbone in key areas.  



Kentucky has 1,590 miles of inland waterways, ranking #4 nationally.


Industrial electric power costs rank 10th lowest in the nation; average residential prices rank 9th lowest.


16% - the number of Kentuckians who have no access to broadband Internet service, that compares to 10% nationally.


There are 182 high-hazard potential dams and 76% of Kentucky’s regulated dams have an Emergency Action Plan.


Infrastructure needs over the next 20 years for drinking water: an estimated $6.2 billion.


Infrastructure needs over the next 20 years for wastewater: an estimated $6.24 billion.


37,650 miles of pipelines in Kentucky - 97.5% of which carry natural gas and the remainder liquid products.


Kentucky’s budget is under pressure - from public pension, Medicaid costs and other programs - making money hard to come by to address these critical infrastructure problems.


Waterways and ports in Kentucky support 15,640 jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy annually.



With more than 1,590 miles of navigable waterways, Kentucky ranks fourth nationally in the amount of inland waterways and is a link between the Great Lakes, Canada, Mexico and the ports of New Orleans, and Mobile.  Kentucky has more than 100 private terminals and thirteen public riverports, either in operation or development.

The U.S. Chamber reports that waterways and ports in Kentucky support 15,640 jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy annually.

Essential commodities shipped to and from Kentucky through waterways and ports include:

  • $26 billion in manufactured goods,
  • $10 billion in chemicals used in consumer products,
  • $6 billion in agricultural and food products.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the state transported 101 million short tons of cargo on waterways in 2012, making it seventh in the nation.


87% of Kentucky’s electricity was produced by coal and 7% by natural gas.



Electric power in Kentucky is distributed by: investor-owned utilities (i.e. AEP Kentucky Power in Ashland, Louisville Gas & Electric in Louisville, Kentucky Utilities Company in Lexington, and Duke Energy in Newport) 27 municipal utilities; the Tennessee Valley Authority; and 24 rural electric cooperatives.  Prices charged and capital expenditures by electric utilities in Kentucky are regulated by the Public Service Commission (municipal-owned utilities are exempt from PSC regulation).  Ownesboro Municipal Utilities, Paducah Power System, Princeton Electric Plant Board, and Henderson Municipal Power and Light are municipal utility generators.  

According to the Energy Information Administration, Kentucky’s average industrial electric power costs ranked 10th lowest in the nation as of January 2017, while the average retail price for residential customers was the 9th lowest in the country.  As of January 2017, Kentucky was the 20th largest generator of electricity among states; 87% of Kentucky’s electricity generation was produced by coal and 7% natural gas.


Almost 90% of Kentuckians without broadband access live in a rural area.



The Annual Broadband Progress Report produced by the Federal Communications Commission provides state-level estimates of the availability and adoption rates of broadband technology (defined as fixed high-speed Internet service with a download speed up at least 25Mbps and upload speed of at least 3Mbps). The 2016 report found 8% of Kentuckians had adopted broadband compared to 37% of all Americans. Only two states (Alaska and Iowa) reported a broadband adoption rate lower than Kentucky. 

An estimated 699,360 Kentuckians (16% of the population) had no access to broadband services, compared to 10% nationwide. When mobile coverage is considered via 4G LTE networks, that number is significantly reduced. As the table below indicates, almost 90% of Kentuckians without broadband access live in a rural area. Kentucky ranked 16th highest among states in the percent of the population with no fixed broadband access.

As part of the federal government’s Connect America initiative, private internet providers will connect more than 152,000 unserved rural Kentucky locations by 2020, reducing the population with limited access to Internet service.

KentuckyWired, the state technology authority established to develop affordable broadband connectivity in the Commonwealth, created a public-private partnership to help bridge the broadband gap. This $324 million project, known as the “middle mile” or  3,400 mile fiber optic network, may bring an additional source of high-speed Internet service to all 120 Kentucky counties my mid-2019. The state invested $30 million in this project (the largest fiber optic project in the history of the country) with the rest being financed using tax-exempt and taxable bonds which the state issued and has backed with guaranteed availability payments of $30 million per year for the next 30 years. KMUA will serve on the advisory committee to KentuckyWired and continues to work with KentuckyWired to address issues and areas of concern. 

Kentucky wired continues to face funding shortfalls. City utilities continue to be concerned about the potential for state funded competitors to their customer base – especially since municipal broadband systems, that are in place today, were built by public funds.


182 of Kentucky dams have a high hazard potential.



The National Inventory of Dams, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers lists, 1,107 dams in Kentucky. The ownership of Kentucky dam is primarily private, followed by local government, federal government and the state.

Dams are classified based on their hazard potential (low, significant or high) in terms of probable loss of human life and the potential for economic losses, and potential damage or disruptions to lifelines caused by failure or mis- operation of a dam.

The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers, indicates 182 of Kentucky dams have a high hazard potential and 76% of regulated dams have an Emergency Action Plan (which specifies actions to be followed to minimize loss of life and property damage).

Dam Ownership in KY

Drinking water quality is generally good in Kentucky
— Kentucky Division of Water’s 2016 Annual Report


Kentucky is served by 441 public water systems, most of which are small (more than 70% service fewer than 10,000 people), that serve 95% of Kentuckians. A 2005 Kentucky legislative report stated that Kentucky has fewer water systems the most states, and the number of systems, especially smaller ones, continues to decrease. To assist communities in developing basic water, sewer and solid waste facilities, the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, a state agency, provides low – cost loans to communities. The Kentucky Division of Water also operates a capacity development program to help small water systems improve their technical, managerial and financial capacity.

Kentucky Division of Water’s 2016 Annual Report indicated drinking water quality is generally good in Kentucky, with the low number of health-based violations relating to water contaminants (less than 1% of water test results) and most water system violations being administrative in nature. In 2015, there were 217 health-based violations in Kentucky.

Most of these violations were Disinfection By-Product (DBP) violations.


The chart on the right compares health – based violations in Kentucky with other states in the percent of the population served by water system with a health violation.

Please note that KMUA is working with DOW to amend these state regulations, that are more stringent that federal DBP regulations, to make it easier for city water systems to stay in compliance.

The 2015 Kentucky Water Management Plan included the following estimates of needed improvements for Kentucky water systems: 

  • 8 new water treatment plans proposed in the next 10 years,
  • 2,407 miles of line extensions proposed in the next 10 years,
  • 1,260 million miles of line rehabilitation proposed in the next 10 years  (6,371 miles of water lines are between 51 and 70 years old and 3434 miles of lines are more than 70 years old), and
  • 416 miles of transmission lines proposed over the next 10 years.

The average age of water treatment plants is 37 years old. The average age of  water tanks is 26 years old.

The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority Wastewater Management Plan surveyed water districts per plant project and identified 2,089 drinking water projects at a total cost of $1,909,356,450. The American Society of Civil Engineers latest Infrastructure Report Card estimates Kentucky has $6.2 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs.


Kentucky has $6.24 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.



The Kentucky Division of Water reports most Kentucky communities have sanitary sewer systems designed to collect and transport waste water (sewage) along with a separate pipe system to transport stormwater. Periodically, these combined sewer systems overflow due to blockages, disrepair and other problems, which can pose a public health hazard. These discharges are known as sanitary sewer overflows. However, some communities in Kentucky have all their sewer systems designed to transport both sanitary wastewater and rainfall, known as combined sewer systems. During periods of heavy rain, the combined flow of wastewater and stormwater can also discharge and potentially expose the public to raw sewage. These discharges are known as combined sewer overflows.

The federal Clean Water Act prohibits sewer overflows, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency brings enforcement action against communities to bring them into compliance. At present, 18 Kentucky communities are under federal consent decrees to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows and to mitigate combined sewer overflows to the extent economically feasible.

These Kentucky communities include: Ashland, Catlettsburg, Frankfort, Harlan, Henderson, Lexington, Louisville, Loyall, Maysville, Morganfield, Northern Kentucky, Owensboro, Paducah, Pikeville, Pineville, Prestonsburg, Vanceburg, and Worthington.

The costs involved in implementing controls to address sewer overflows can be substantial. For example, the EPA reports the minimum cost of implementing improvements to eliminate or control overflows in some of Kentucky’s larger communities as follows: Northern Kentucky Water District No.1  $880 million; Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District, $500 million; Lexington, $290 million.  To help communities comply with these consent decrees, the state maintains a Clean Water State Revolving Fund to loan money to communities to finance required improvements to sewage systems; these include repairing and replacing sewer lines and increasing storage capacity of sewage. Vanceburg, Pikeville and Prestonburg have completed projects to eliminate all combined sewer overflow’s, and Henderson has completed the construction of a long-term control project.

The Division of Water has also identified 277 Kentucky communities not under federal consent decrees but have varying degrees of aging infrastructure that can cause overflows at wastewater treatment plants. The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority Wastewater Management Plan surveyed water districts for planned projects and identified 1,484 needed wastewater projects in Kentucky with the total cost of more than $2 billion. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest infrastructure report card estimates that Kentucky has $6.24 billion in waste water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.



There are 37,650 miles of pipeline in Kentucky - 97.5% of which carry natural gas and the remainder liquid products.  The table on the right shows the type of materials carried by pipeline in Kentucky and the mileage for each type.




The University of Kentucky reports state and local infrastructure expenditures have increased steadily on a per capita basis.  From 1995 to 2014, Kentucky had a higher percentage increase (34%) when compared to a 12% increase in competitor states.  Kentucky spends more of its gross domestic product on infrastructure (2.8%) than the competitor states (2.6%) and about the same as the United States (2.7%).  The chart to the right shows the growth in per capita state and local infrastructure spending since 1995.  



  1. Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, “A Citizens Guide to Kentucky Infrastructure” May 2017
  2. Kentucky Infrastructure Report Card 2011, Kentucky Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers
  3. Infrastructure Report Card, The American Society of Civil Engineers, 2017
  4. Just the Facts: Utilities in Kentucky, Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development
  5. Average Price of Electricity to Ultimate Customers by End-Use Sector U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 2016
  6. 2016, Broadband Progress Report, Federal Communications Commission, January 28, 2016
  7. Top Accomplishments for 2016, Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet
  8. Kentucky Division of Water, Annual Report, 2016
  9. Water Management Plan, Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, 2015
  10. Dupont, Bernadette,  Federal Highways Administration, Kentucky Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, Infrastructure Report, 2017.