Kansans may disagree on a vast number of things, but if there’s one subject that unites the vast majority of us, it’s highways.
Kansans love their highways.
And it makes sense, as a large rural state, that Kansas needs a well-maintained network of quality roads.
That’s why the testimony of Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Julie Lorenz was such a worthwhile listen.
She has a plan to revamp KDOT programs, called “Forward.” As Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Sherman Smith wrote: “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 led to severe delays and the elimination of projects.”
The proposal sounds worthwhile, and we hope that legislators take a careful look. At the very least, they should minimize the practice of sweeping funding from “The Bank of KDOT.”
That descriptive if inartful phrase simply meant that money meant for transportation was used to fill holes in the general budget. Not potholes, mind you but gaps created by inadequate revenue stemming from experimental tax policy.
This practice needs to end. Our state’s prosperity depends on having a robust and well-maintained network of streets, roads and highways. Kansans are proud of the roads; they care about their roads, and they want to see those roads preserved for future generations.
Yes, this likely means that other revenue will have to be found for the overall budget. But it should be obvious by now that — while our state is in better financial shape than it has been for many years — we require challenging discussions about raising all of the revenue required to fund priorities.
Those discussions will have to happen. Raiding the highway fund only delays the inevitable.
Republican legislative leaders are suggesting KDOT raids need to end sooner than Gov. Kelly's three-year phaseout. We think exploring a faster — or immediate — phaseout has merit.
We also realize that transportation itself is shifting. There are calls for more public transportation, more trains, more buses, less reliance on individual passenger cars. This makes sense, especially for more urban areas.
But Kansas is a state with a large and consistent rural footprint. Our economy and infrastructure does not work without highways. Perhaps in the distant future this may change, but until that unknowable day, we have to take care of what we have. Our shortsightedness has left us with a dearth of shovel-ready projects, while the roads themselves crumble.
“We don’t have anything identified and in development,” Lorenz told lawmakers. Then she lowered the boom. “That is quite frankly a stupid place for our state to be.”