Archive for Sunday, June 14, 2009

KDOT studies consider future but lack funding

June 14, 2009


State transportation planners are taking a detailed look into the future for one of its busiest areas: the so-called Johnson County Gateway, including areas surrounding the interchanges and connections of Kansas Highway 10, Interstate 35 and Interstate 435.

But that’s only the beginning.

Kansas Department of Transportation leaders are moving forward with several major studies, each designed to accelerate discussions about just how people and materials will get around in coming years and decades.

Left undetermined: just how the government will pay for it all.

“We have funding to study,” said Kim Qualls, a department spokeswoman who has helped raise public awareness of ongoing studies. “However, there is no funding to complete any construction on any of these projects at this time.

“If these studies come up with a preliminary design or construction plan, there is no money to construct anything.”

The gateway is among the highest-profile studies — a $2.3 million effort to come up with designs and set priorities for changes that would improve the safety, mobility and efficiency of the interchange area: K-10, from Ridgeview Road to I-435; I-435, from Quivira Road to 95th Street; and I-35, from 95th to 119th streets.

Also under way: the 5-County Regional Transportation Study, a $1 million effort to assess multimodal needs for the next 20 years or more in Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties.

Stimulating resources

The five-county study is reviewing options for a wide variety of travel choices for both passengers and freight, including transportation that involves cars, trucks, transit and trains.

Following in the search-for-financing theme, the five-county study has been financed only for its first phase. The second phase, which would set priorities for particular projects, remains without a revenue source.

But plans are key in any future financing. A recent rush of federal stimulus funds went to “shovel-ready” projects that had been identified, planned and ready to begin construction within months.

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden stopped by the site of a widening project for U.S. Highway 69 in Overland Park, which is getting a $76 million injection from the stimulus program.

While KDOT’s ongoing studies won’t be expected to create specific, construction-ready plans for any new highways or high-speed rail lines or congestion-pricing systems, the studies’ findings could move such projects or others closer to fruition.

“In all of these studies, we are looking multimodal,” Qualls said. “The studies are important to determine the needs, and the needs can be addressed on a project-by-project basis. And then funding will have to be determined, should it become available.”

Federal factor

Officials in Washington already are discussing the potential of another federal transportation bill, one expected to involve the possibility of spending more than $400 billion over the next six years to address transportation needs. In Kansas, leaders are mulling options for a comprehensive transportation program, another financing vehicle that in past years has gone to build highways and make other improvements statewide.

Among projects already lined up to await potential financing is completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway. The project’s planned route through the Baker Wetlands is being challenged in court, and the estimated $144 million price tag for construction remains without a source of revenue.

K-10 is a key component of the ongoing studies, Qualls said, and will be expected to remain so for years to come.

“If we don’t address the needs of what’s going to occur in the future, we could get 15 years down the road and have a congestion and safety and infrastructure nightmare,” she said. “By planning now, we will be better prepared for the future.”


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