Topeka Transportation officials have started to make the case to state legislators that increased highway spending will help the economy.
And while that message may appeal to lawmakers who are facing a tight budget when the legislative session starts in January, there are some urging caution.
“Transportation funding does not equal economic growth,” said Alan Cobb, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Kansas.
If it did, Kansas would be a financial superpower because the state spends billions of dollars to have one of the best highway systems in the country, Cobb argues.
The debate comes at a time when policymakers are considering whether to embark on another massive transportation plan since the current $13 billion, 10-year plan is nearing completion. Some have argued that more national and local highway funding would jolt the economy back to life.
Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller recently unveiled a new study conducted for the agency that examined the economic impact of five major highway projects in Kansas.
Not surprisingly, the study concluded $231 million worth of road projects produced 51,000 jobs and $6.1 billion in additional economic value in 2006 alone.
The projects studied included:
• Interchange improvements at the Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County, which has helped spur the Village West development.
• Kansas Highway 96 northeast Wichita bypass.
• U.S. Highway 400 Parsons bypass.
• Interstate 435 and Nall interchange in Johnson County.
• Interstate 70 and Commerce Parkway interchange in Hays.
While transportation officials say job growth associated with the economic development around those projects has been great, others argue it is impossible to determine whether all those jobs were due to the improvements.
Maybe it would have been better to spend the funds for the Parsons bypass on some other, perhaps worthier project, Cobb suggested.
“I’m not sure life would have been worse going through a few stoplights,” he said.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, however, has weighed in, saying more should be done to ensure that road projects are based on economic development. But the chamber also has asked lawmakers to take it slow when it comes to considering a new transportation plan.
Rather than develop a new 10-year plan, the chamber has taken the position that it might be better to focus more on basic maintenance until the federal government passes a stimulus package that includes funding for infrastructure, and the state’s financial condition improves.