Kansas governor announces change that will increase local transportation funding
photo by: Peter Hancock
TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday announced a change in transportation funding policy that will result in about $45 million in additional money being made available to city and county governments to fund local road and bridge projects.
The change will result in roughly $115,500 in additional road and bridge money becoming available for the city of Lawrence and about $90,000 in additional funding available for Douglas County, officials said.
The program is called the Federal Fund Exchange. It gives all 105 counties and many cities in Kansas the option of sending their federal transportation funding to the Kansas Department of Transportation so they can draw it back down in the form of state highway money, which can then be used on a wider variety of projects without having to comply with many federal regulations.
The program began in fall 2010, at the end of former Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson’s administration. Originally, local governments could send their federal dollars to the Kansas Department of Transportation and receive 90 percent of it back.
Even though the local governments give up a portion of their federal funds, officials said it was still beneficial because it allowed them to avoid a whole host of federal requirements that consumed a large portion of the money they received.
Erik Sartorius, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, said accessing federal funds could sometimes be more trouble than it was worth.
“By the time that you account for some of the extra costs and reporting requirements, it is almost more expensive to do the project than if you were privately funding it or doing it via bonds,” he said.
The program also allows local governments to use the money for local streets and bridges, not just those that are part of the U.S. or interstate highway systems.
Last year, amid funding shortfalls for the state’s highway program, KDOT lowered its exchange rate down to 75 percent. But on Monday, Colyer said the state’s financial picture had improved enough that KDOT could restore the 90 percent exchange rate.
“It is important to me that local governments have access to the resources for local projects, and less federal regulation, less bureaucratic red tape,” Colyer said.
Keith Browning, director of Douglas County’s Public Works Department, said the increase in the exchange rate would enable the county to stretch its federal dollars further.
“The Federal Fund Exchange program is a really good program,” he said. “I know it was a 90-10 cost share, and it was great at that level. They had lowered it to 75-25. Even at that, it was beneficial for the county to participate in it, but it’s really good news that it’s going back up to 90 percent.”
Browning said Douglas County received about $600,000 a year in federal highway funding. But under federal rules, all projects funded directly with that money require more intensive design standards and multiple environmental studies.
Porter Arneill, spokesman for the city of Lawrence, said the city would receive about $770,000 in federal transportation funding this year. Based on that amount, the higher exchange rate will result in the city receiving about $693,000 of that money back in the form of state transportation money, or about $115,000 more than it would have under the 75 percent exchange rate.