Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2008

State seeks more federal funds for roads

June 25, 2008

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— State transportation officials are worried they won't have enough money to pay for planned highway projects because of decreased federal funds, unless Congress comes up with an additional $120 million to bridge the expected shortfall.

"It has a serious impact on whether we have to cut some projects that have been scheduled or delay them," Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Swartz said Tuesday. "Projects that are under construction most likely wouldn't be impacted."

The department is nearing the end of a 10-year, $13 billion comprehensive transportation plan approved by the Legislature in 1999. Lawmakers will be asked to approve a new 10-year plan next year.

Swartz said KDOT gets $360 million a year from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The $120 million reduction would amount to more than a 30 percent cut in funds for state and local transportation projects.

Last week, KDOT Secretary Deb Miller sent out 125 letters to local governments, legislators and transportation interest groups urging them to contact members of the Kansas congressional delegation about the issue.

"I am becoming increasingly worried that time and reasonable options to fix the problem are quickly running out," Miller said in a written statement Monday. "I can't state this too strongly. Congressional action is needed soon."

Swartz said no decision has been made on how many projects would be cut or delayed if the shortfall in the trust fund isn't fixed by Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year.

The problem is the fund gets the bulk of its revenue from the federal fuels tax. Kansans are driving less these days because of increased gas prices, meaning less money for the state.

Adding to the problem is that the fund has been used in recent years for nontransportation issues. In 1998, $8 billion was transferred out and never replaced. Congress also dipped into it for recovery efforts in New York City after Sept. 11 and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

In Washington, the House and Senate are considering bills to transfer $8 billion from the general fund to the highway fund. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the legislation "simply makes sense."

But Swartz said any additional money this year would be a "one-time fix."

"The problem does continue beyond this year. Our focus is get funding for 2009 shored up and then we can address the larger picture," he said. "We need a more sustainable revenue source for funding transportation. Nothing is off the table."

Swartz said reduced federal funds could have an impact on KDOT's long-range transportation plan that has a $58 billion price tag over two decades.

"The amount of revenue we have will dictate the kind of work and how much work we can have," he said.

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