Topeka Before Kansas officials rev up their engines to start a third major highway spending plan, a government watchdog group is waving the yellow flag.
Art Hall, executive director of the Kansas University Center for Applied Economics, and Americans For Prosperity said state officials need to take more time to analyze road projects before approving them.
"Every dollar spent on a transportation project is a dollar not spent for another government service, or a dollar not spent lowering our state's tax burden," said Alan Cobb, director of the Kansas chapter of AFP.
Hall backed up Cobb, saying that the Kansas Department of Transportation should conduct rigorous cost-benefit analyses of projects to determine which should be done, and of those, which should get the top priority.
"It's all about getting better information flow to decision makers and taxpayers," Hall said.
Their comments came as lawmakers, KDOT and officials throughout the state lay the groundwork for the next comprehensive transportation program.
The current 10-year, $13.5 billion program expires next year.
KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said she had some problems with Hall and Cobb's analysis.
KDOT uses reams of data before deciding on projects, such as traffic counts, road safety and crash history, Miller said.
"These dollars are extremely precious, and we have to spend them wisely," she said.
She said, however, that relying solely on a cost-benefit analysis for each highway project may be short-sighted because some projects may not be justified alone, but enhance the entire system.
For example, she said, the interstate system is a national asset, even through some segments of the interstate would be difficult to pass muster on a cost-benefit analysis.
A large portion of the state's comprehensive transportation program includes system enhancements, in which communities vie for projects.
Hall questioned improvements made to widen U.S. Highway 24-40 near the Kansas Speedway because the road is just two miles north of Interstate 70. Had a more in-depth cost-benefit analysis been done, those expenses may have been saved, he said.
KDOT officials said this was a $38.6 million project that was selected because of high economic development potential, plus local officials have promised to take over responsibility for maintaining the road.
Pat Hurley, head of Economic Lifelines, a coalition of groups that lobbies for highway funding, said the transportation plan alone has been an economic boon to the state, creating jobs, payroll and increasing commerce.
But Cobb said investing in highway projects to spur economic growth "may be just a transfer of economic benefits from one region to another."