James Hoyt
KU Statehouse Wire Service
The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) recently found itself at the center of debates over Kansas’ budget.
Since 2010, KDOT officials say the department has transferred $1.8 billion to the state general fund. Most have been to help balance the Kansas budget.
The money transfers have led to delays of expansion and modernization projects, including six announced on April 20.
Steve Swartz, a KDOT spokesman, said there are 25 expansion and modernization projects underway in Kansas. The delayed projects include the construction of additional lanes on U.S. 54 in Seward County.
“As it stands today, we expect that these projects will be pushed back 18 to 24 months if KDOT’s sales tax revenue is restored in FY (fiscal year) 18, or new money is made available,” Swartz said in an email.
In November 2015, transportation advocacy group Economic Lifelines said: “The equivalent of $1 million per day has been taken from the state’s transportation agency for the past several years and that preliminary budget submissions show this trend continuing in both FY 2016 and FY 2017.”
Bob Totten, executive vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association, the state’s largest association representing the highway and utility construction industry, said he is concerned continued transfers from KDOT will lead to the stagnation and degradation of Kansas’ roads and bridges.
“In the past, each mile of pavement got a treatment every 12 years. Under what they did in 2016, they were going to touch that pavement once every 50 years,” Totten said. “Instead of building 115 bridges every year, repainting them, fixing them, we’re fixing 58.”
Out of Kansas’ 25,047 bridges, 2,303 are classified as “structurally deficient,” according to the Federal Highway Administration. This gives Kansas the sixth-highest number of deficient bridges in the country.
Totten also voiced concerns that the money being taken out of KDOT will cause contractor jobs to leave the state, negatively affecting local economies and the lives of the contractors themselves.
“Our contractors are now working in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Nebraska…. The employees that they employ are going to be in (those states) … if they do take the job, then they won’t see their mom, or their wife, or their kids for three to five months of the year because they’re going to be in another state buildings roads,” Totten said.
David M. Howard, CEO of Koss Construction, has also said the KDOT transfers have put pressure on construction companies hoping to keep their business in Kansas.
“The Kansas Department of Transportation’s ability to deliver for Kansas has been difficult at best the last couple of years. For my firm, having done business here in Kansas for over 100 years, it is difficult to understand the logic of what is occurring,” Howard said.
For Howard, whose company is based in Wichita and is one of the largest asphalt providers in the nation, working in Kansas is a priority.
“There are still nearly 90 of us who have worked on Kansas highways for five years or more with this company, and so many more just starting to build a career with us – we are determined to continue. We are investing in Kansas, albeit in fewer people and less equipment.”
However, Howard doesn’t blame KDOT for the situation.
“The Kansas Department of Transportation has delayed projects; their management has been as planful (sic) and diligent as possible in delivering for this state. The plan just keeps changing as a result of the 2012 income tax cuts,” he said.
Swartz said KDOT is continuing to devote resources to projects in Kansas.
“KDOT currently has more than $900 million of construction projects underway. In addition, we will be doing $400 million of preservation work in FY2017,” Swartz said.
Edited by Leah Sitz