TOPEKA — Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Julie Lorenz outlined her vision Tuesday for a long-range highway plan built around an evolving pipeline of projects and attention to technology needs.
She presented lawmakers in the Senate Transportation Committee with the plan for "Forward," the agency's proposal for the next in a series of long-term blueprints for addressing the state's infrastructure needs.
The idea behind "Forward" is to identify and deploy major projects every two years, as opposed to mapping out 10 years worth of projects all at once. Under T-Works, the most recent highway plan, years of funding sweeps let to severe delays and the elimination of projects.
Meanwhile, Lorenz said, community needs changed over time.
"It's really important that we can make more dynamic, responsive decisions and get things built in a timely fashion," Lorenz said.
Lawmakers are expected to adopt a new long-term highway plan this session, with questions swirling about whether to abruptly close the "bank of KDOT," or phase out the funding sweeps as proposed by Gov. Laura Kelly.
KDOT is funded by an array of taxes and fees, including a fuel tax and license registration. The cash from those avenues must be spent on transportation needs. But the largest chunk of revenue, about $547 million annually, comes from a statewide sales tax.
Lawmakers have swept $2 billion in sales tax money out of KDOT and into the state general fund over the past 10 years.
Lorenz said KDOT resorted to applying a thin overlay to roads that needed maintenance, leaving state highways with a crumbling bed below deteriorating pavement. Recent winter storms have exposed the problem.
"It's bad to the core," she said.
Lawmakers began phasing out the cash sweeps a year ago, and KDOT used the influx of $216 million to advance five delayed projects, increase highway preservation efforts, restore local bridges, and install a cost-share program that funded 22 projects.
Now, without a long-range plan in motion, the state has no shovel-ready projects in the pipeline.
"We don't have anything identified and in development," Lorenz said. "That is quite frankly a stupid place for our state to be."