TOPEKA — Communities, builders and economic development organizations are pushing legislators to take a comprehensive look at the Kansas transportation needs after the state spent years sweeping highway funds to support a faltering state budget.
Members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee have taken on a bill that would create a 27-member task force charged with looking at Kansas’ progress on its eight-year-old transportation plan and making recommendations to the Legislature. Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, said the committee would continue discussing the bill after its initial hearing Wednesday.
Legislators have expressed growing concern over the condition of Kansas roads and highways. The Legislature repeatedly has swept funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation to balance a state budget made troublesome by Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature income tax cuts.
Jerry Younger, managing director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Association and Kansas Ready Mixed Concrete Association, said he had seen signs of wear on Kansas roads.
“I think we all know as engineers and transportation people that those chinks in the armor grow pretty quickly to some bigger problem and a much more expensive problem,” Younger said.
Younger said when KDOT has funds, it can help with local infrastructure projects that support economic development, citing the replacement of the Willard bridge in Shawnee County.
Jennifer Cunningham, assistant city manager of Garden City, argued infrastructure investments lead to economic growth. She said in the last decade, $16.5 million in KDOT investment has yielded $365 million in private investments in development.
Sen. Dan Goddard, a Parsons Republican, said he was impressed with the enthusiasm for the transportation needs of the state.
“For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing a lot of organizations speaking with one voice for the most part,” Goddard said. “That is very refreshing. I think it is a strong indication of how important our transportation infrastructure is and our transportation system is.”
Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, said his fellow committee member, Garden City Republican Sen. John Doll, had been frustrated previously when communities were promised transportation infrastructure projects that never came through.
Cunningham said several counties in southwest Kansas had not gotten infrastructure projects they were promised.
“I just use that as an example hoping that as we do Senate Bill 285 and pass it and put it in place, that we make promises but we also keep those promises as we embark on a new plan,” Hawk said.