Improving our transportation network is one of the most effective ways to promote economic growth and prosperity, and I have worked to ensure that a fair share of federal gasoline tax dollars return to Kentucky.
Nowhere is the need for new roads and improved aviation access more apparent than in southern and eastern Kentucky, where people have been isolated from the rest of the Commonwealth largely due to inadequate and poor road and airport infrastructure. By working together with local, state, and federal officials, we have made numerous improvements to our transportation network. During my time in Congress, I have helped direct more than $100 million in funding for Kentucky’s Appalachian Highways. These dollars have helped transform several roads in our region, including a section of U.S. 119 over Pine Mountain in Letcher County, which was once considered one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the Commonwealth. Also in 1996, after more than two decades of work, the $280 million Cumberland Gap Tunnels opened to a great celebration. The twin tunnels now safely carry thousands of cars along U.S. 25E between Kentucky and Tennessee each day, and have opened up the region to tourists and new businesses.
I am also a chief advocate of Interstate 66 which will provide Kentuckians with a crucial new east-west highway connecting the coal fields of eastern Kentucky to the corn fields of western Kentucky. Studies have shown that interstate routes pay huge economic dividends for the communities and regions they connect, and I-66 will provide our citizens with better access to health care, open our communities to tourists and travel dollars, and provide additional supply lines for the new businesses we are working to attract. One recent study stated that increasing access to highways in Appalachia would reduce travel time and costs for businesses and is estimated to produce over 80,000 jobs in the coming decades with an additional $5 billion added to the economy each year. Interstates like I-66 will also improve safety for people traveling in and around the area, by providing a wide, well-maintained thoroughfare.
Congress is currently in the process of re-authorizing the critical programs that allow states like Kentucky to continue to improve and build roadways, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure projects. Such legislation presents a great opportunity to increase safety and mobility, promote economic development and create jobs across our region. I am hopeful that all sides in Congress will work together to finalize legislation that gives these infrastructure programs robust and long-term stability so that these important projects in the fifth congressional district will continue.