Topeka What has become a once-a-decade effort started Monday, as highway advocates pushed for a new transportation plan that could cost upwards of $10 billion and increase motor fuels taxes.
State officials and special interest groups gathered in the Senate chamber to talk about transportation needs for the coming decade.
“We can’t afford, in my opinion, to allow the progress that has been made, to deteriorate,” said Mary Turkington, who is co-chair of Economic Lifelines, a coalition of businesses that supports increased highway funding.
The transportation plan forces came armed with a report from The Transportation Information Project, or TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based highway advocacy group.
The report said Kansas faces a $6.4 billion funding gap over 10 years to take care of critical road needs, such as deteriorating bridges, increased traffic and safety hazards.
Combined with the state’s annual expenditure of approximately $375 million per year for road maintenance and repairs, the total 10-year price tag would top $10 billion.
Among the bridges listed in the TRIP report with the lowest rating was U.S. Highway 40, or Sixth Street, in Lawrence where it goes over McDonald Drive and Iowa Street. The bridge handles nearly 30,000 vehicles per day and was built in 1956.
KDOT officials say the bridge is listed as functionally obsolete because it doesn’t have shoulders. But the structure is sound and safe for vehicles, they said.
The state’s most recent 10-year, $13 billion comprehensive transportation program was approved in 1999 and expired earlier this year.
Officials said the traditional ways to raise the kind of money needed for a new plan would be through borrowing and taxes.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he didn’t think the Legislature would approve a general tax increase, but possibly would consider user fees, such as motor fuels tax and vehicle registration. The current state gasoline tax is 24 cents per gallon.
Morris said a transportation plan would provide jobs and help develop the economy. He vowed to try to get a new plan approved when the Legislature starts the 2010 session in January.
Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said any long-range plan could include funding for the South Lawrence Trafficway, which is currently being challenged in federal court by environmentalists who say the project would harm the Baker Wetlands.
“Should this alignment survive that legal challenge, I don’t think there is any question it will be on the long list of projects that are highly sought after in a new transportation program. And then, whether or not the South Lawrence Trafficway is included in the bill will probably depend on just how big the program is,” she said.