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How Geography Helps Explain Disparities In Louisville Road Paving

On a Metro Council map, Louisville is split almost down the middle by party. Democrats on the council represent areas to the west, while Republicans represent those to the east.

The practical effect is that on each side of the center line, there are several like-party districts that are contiguous. And if the council members in those areas choose to work together on a project, they effectively create a sort of super district, covering more miles — and constituents — than their own individual areas.

This matters when it comes to road projects. And it helps explain why council Republicans — who are a 17-9 minority on the council — have been so successful in pooling their funds together to take on road-paving projects.

Each year, the nine-member Republican caucus pools its annual allotment of capital infrastructure funds, creating a $900,000 pot of money. This approach can allow for long stretches of certain roads spanning across council boundaries to be paved in their entirety, rather than in smaller sections bound by council lines.

It makes for a more robust road-repair effort in Republican areas than Democratic ones.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, chair of the Republican caucus, says the choice to pool certain discretionary funds for road paving is not grounded in the geographic clustering of GOP districts, which also tend to be more suburban (and contain more overall miles of roadway that needs paving).

But the effect is undeniable: Republicans get more of their roads paved than Democrats. And that means that the east side of the city — the Republican side, as it were — has better roads than the other side.

Here's the party breakdown per council district (Democrats in blue, Republicans in red):




Kramer says pointing out the cluster of GOP districts misses the point about why caucus members pool their funds.

"Let's don't talk about this as if there's some line on a some map somewhere that magically decides where the money has to be spent," he said. "Let's instead talk about what can we do with $900,000, what kind of an impact can we have."

A recent push from the Metro Council to boost funding for road paving led to nearly double the number of roads being paved during the 2015 paving season compared with recent years, according to data from Metro Public Works.

The 2015 effort also led to more than double the amount of roadway miles repaired in the nine Republican districts compared with the 17 Democratic districts, the data show.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.