Secretary Thomas Brings Private Sector Experience to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) Secretary Greg Thomas continues to shape a more efficient and strategic organization to better serve the public and stretch dollars.
"Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to do the right thing with the taxpayers, and that's to deliver the best value, whether through increased efficiencies, prioritization of projects or industry best practices," Thomas says.
Thomas began in the position with a Road Fund budget shortfall, making his first priority returning to a solid fiscal position. KYTC has a $2.4 billion budget, which includes aviation: 59 general aviation airports and five commercial airports. The airports do not compete for funding with highways.
In June 2016, Thomas initiated Pause-50, halting all new state road projects for a year, including design and construction, so KYTC could pay current expenditures, recoup lost revenue and rebuild its funding base.
"It was a chance for the Road Fund to catch up," Thomas explains. "We increased efficiency and looked at industry best practices."
The state has more than 3,700 miles in need of significant repairs and 1,100 structurally deficient bridges. The backlog of pavement improvements totals about $1 billion and is growing at a rate of 500 miles of roadway each year. Thomas plans to stem that.
"It speaks to our Road Fund shortfall," Thomas says. "We plan to ask our legislature to consider providing additional funding. One of the things we are asking for in the next road plan is to carve out funding for a fix-it-first strategy."
Under Pause-50, about $1 billion in projects already under way continued, such as improvements to Interstate 69, the Mountain Parkway expansion, Louisville bridges, and improvements to U.S. 68/Kentucky 80, as did $700 million in federally funded projects, including widening of I-75 in Rockcastle County, new I-65 interchange in Bullitt County, and upgrading the William H. Natcher Parkway. Resurfacing projects also continued.
SHIFT Scoring System
To prioritize future road projects, the KYTC developed the Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow (SHIFT), a fact-based scoring module it uses to evaluate all projects. The data includes crashes, traffic volumes, delays and opportunities for economic growth. Priorities include improving safety, reducing congestion, increasing job growth, spending tax dollars wisely and preserving existing roads and bridges. KYTC has scored more than 1,100 projects.
"We are trying to score projects equally and fairly," Thomas explains. "Our goal is to submit a balanced program to the governor and legislators."
The first step was identifying and ranking projects of statewide significance, such as highways that move people and goods from one region to another or to other states. The KYTC found 70 projects meeting that criteria. The three top-ranked project were a widening of Interstate 265 in Jefferson County; improvements to Interstate 64, also in Jefferson County; and a widening of Interstate 65 in Bullitt County.
Next, the cabinet will consider more than 1,000 projects and rank regional projects. Regional scoring is weighted. Seventy percent of a project's score is quantitative and 30 percent is qualitative. Transportation leaders were given an opportunity to contribute to the process, and their voices will determine the qualitative score. Then the plans will be presented to the governor and general assembly.
In additional to the roads, the plan will include an additional $205 million annually to repair or replace aging bridges and roads. It does not contain any public-private partnerships.
A Business Savvy Leader
With more than 30 years experience in the private sector, Thomas brings business acumen to the position. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, he became a Technical Engineer for Kentucky Utilities, and then he moved up the ranks of that company to Vice President of Distribution Operations and Energy Delivery. He then worked at Louisville Gas and Electric, responsible for operations of the statewide electrical distribution system and related compliance and regulatory functions.
"This is my first foray into public service and a chance to make a difference," Thomas says.
Governor Bevin first appointed him Deputy Secretary in February 2016, citing his years in the private sector. One month later, Thomas began serving as acting secretary, and Bevin made the appointment to Secretary in April 2016, praising his expertise in engineering, managing budgets and providing strategic direction.
"If you look at the transportation cabinet from a business perspective, it's a huge operation," Thomas explains. "My operational experience led me to look at the bottom line and efficiencies. It goes back to value for the taxpayers."
Since assuming responsibility for the KYTC, Thomas has streamlined operations, used reverse auctions, employed technology for vehicle registrations and to help drivers avoid congested areas through a partnership with Waze, reduced personnel numbers significantly, and started a flexible solutions initiative, which assesses problems and identifies the most cost-effective solutions.
"We are trying to optimize the use of our existing resources," Thomas says.
Thomas also is seeking efficiencies in Kentucky's pavement maintenance program. It entails addressing the pavement concerns as the road nears the end of its life, not afterward when significant repairs are needed. Crews place a thinner surface of new pavement than would be needed if it completely deteriorated, at about one-third the cost. The process extends the life of the road another six to eight years.
"It's a good cost-benefit move for us," Thomas says. "And hopefully we will save money for new construction."
"Our mission is to provide a safe, efficient, environmentally sound, fiscally responsible transportation system that delivers economic vitality to the state," Thomas explains. "Economic growth requires a good transportation system."
He explained that new employers, such as Amazon, require investments in transportation to meet the immediate needs of those businesses.
Thomas delivers on the KYTC mission using a collaborative, inclusive approach. He says, "It's not about me; it's about the team." The cabinet has 4,300 employees.
"I believe in open, honest dialogue, respecting each other and a culture of honor," Thomas says. "I empower folks and do what I can to support them."
Thomas states he is pleased with the culture of change, internally and with the public, which has occurred at the KYTC under his tenure.
"I'm encouraged," Thomas says. "I feel good about our relationships with our contractors. I feel we have a good working relationship."