Delaying Highway Projects Have Some in Kansas Worried

Since 2010, more than $1 billion has been shifted from the highway fund to address the state’s revenue shortfall, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

📅   Thu May 05, 2016 - Midwest Edition
Melissa Hellmann - ASSOCIATED PRESS


Since 2010, more than $1 billion has been shifted from the highway fund to address the state’s revenue shortfall, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Since 2010, more than $1 billion has been shifted from the highway fund to address the state’s revenue shortfall, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Congested or treacherous roads could become more so under the Kansas Department of Transportation's recent announcement that 25 large, already-scheduled highway projects will be delayed for over the next two years.

The delay is part of Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to divert $185 million in sales tax money that's earmarked for highway projects to other government programs to help address projected budget shortfalls in the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

The delayed projects, which were scheduled through mid-2019, include work that would have widened shoulders, flattened hills, straightened curves and added passing lanes and greater capacity to the state's highway system. The modernization and expansion projects, which are part of the $8 billion 2010 Transportation Works for Kansas program, will eventually be completed, according to transportation department spokesman Steve Swartz.

“Our intent is to get to them as soon as we can and we think that the delay will probably be 18 to 24 months,' Swartz said, adding that the 10,000-mi. state highway system will be repaired in the interim.

However, Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said there is a chance the projects won't be delayed “if expenditures were reduced by an equal amount in another area of state government.'

Since 2010, more than $1 billion has been shifted from the highway fund to address the state's revenue shortfall, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Critics worry the latest delays signal the end of the 10-year transportation program, which was designed to create jobs, bolster economic development and preserve highway infrastructure.

“This announcement didn't create jobs, it cost jobs,' said Michael Johnston, chief executive officer of the transportation lobbyist group Economic Lifelines.

In Crawford County, the extension of Highway 69 has been talked about for several decades, said Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce. But construction to make it four lanes, which was scheduled to begin within the next couple of years, was part of the newly announced delays.

The increased traffic to Pittsburg State University could cause more congestion and endanger lives, he said. In February, a local high school student died in a car crash after swerving into traffic coming from the opposite direction on that two-lane highway.

“To put more and more people on that ... two-lane road is something that is extremely dangerous,' Benson said. “One fatal accident is one too many.'

Brownback has given lawmakers three budget-balancing options to consider, all of which slashed the highway fund. He said in a news release that the state is going to “focus our support and attention on controlling government spending more efficiently.'

House Transportation Committee Chairman Republican Rep. Richard Proehl, of Parsons, said that the more than $125 million worth of transportation projects now stalled in southeast Kansas will limit job growth and the economy.

He noted that other legislators are similarly frustrated with the loss to the highway fund, but said he believes delaying the Kansas Department of Transportation projects is unavoidable.

“I don't know what other options that they have at this point in time,' he said. “The money's not there to start them or complete them.'