Plan to widen SLT to four lanes will need to compete with 21 other projects still waiting their turn
photo by: Journal-World FIle Photo
If Kansas is going to get a new statewide highway plan to fund big projects — like widening the South Lawrence Trafficway — it must first finish building the projects left uncompleted in the last plan, a new report recommends.
The state’s current transportation plan, which was approved in 2011, left 21 projects totaling $500 million unfunded, in part because state leaders raided the transportation fund to get through tight budget times.
A new transportation plan doesn’t have much of a political chance of passing if those 21 projects aren’t first completed, said Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, and chairman of the Kansas House Transportation Committee.
“If we don’t complete those, why would anybody believe that any new plan would work or that we would follow through with the projects promised?” he said. “We need to show we will complete them.”
Plans for a new statewide transportation plan are being watched in Lawrence because local leaders are lobbying for state funds to expand the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway to four lanes.
The Kansas Legislative Research Department prepared the report for the Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force, which conducted a series of hearings last summer and fall throughout Kansas on the status and future needs of transportation in the state.
Proehl, who is co-chair of the task force, said several bills have been introduced in the Legislature based on the report, which was released three weeks ago. But the No. 1 recommendation of the report is an item that likely won’t be addressed through a new law. Rather, it is a recommendation that the governor and the legislature end the practice of sweeping money from the state highway fund for other state purposes.
The task force says that it is critical to end the practice, which has diverted $2.01 billion from the state highway fund since 2011, and to provide consistent and stable revenue to the Kansas Department of Transportation for the maintenance, preservation and improvement of the state highway system.
The task force report noted the reallocation of state highway fund revenue was the main reason KDOT delayed 21 projects totaling $500 million that were to be completed in the state’s current T-Works transportation plan. The task force recommends that KDOT complete the 21 delayed projects in the next four years, should the Legislature approve secure state highway fund revenue this year.
The report does not specifically mention the South Lawrence Trafficway project. But KDOT has said the SLT project — which also is Kansas Highway 10 — is a needed one. It would expand to four lanes the west leg of the SLT from U.S. Highway 59/Iowa Street to Interstate 70. That section of K-10 has become the most heavily traveled stretch of two-lane highway in the state since the K-10 east leg opened in November 2016.
There has been some talk of making the SLT a toll road to help pay for the project. While that idea didn’t specifically get mentioned in the report, the topic of toll roads did win some support in the report.
Proehl said one bill introduced in the Legislature based on the task force report would eliminate the requirement that tolls pay for all of a toll road’s construction and maintenance costs. An associated task force recommendation proposes that KDOT and the Kansas Turnpike Authority work to identify projects in which tolls could provide part of the revenue needed for their construction and maintenance.
KDOT started a three-year environmental impact study of the K-10 west leg expansion in September. The study, which is a required step in the west leg expansion, is considering the use of tolls to help pay for the project.
The Douglas County Commission and Lawrence City Commission are on record as opposing tolls on K-10. Proehl said the task force report states that local support is needed for projects that would include tolls.
“This is not set up so we can shove tolling down people’s throats,” he said. “If local people aren’t for it, it’s not going to be a toll road. Tolling will be a partnership.”
Proehl said a number of bills to increase KDOT funding have or will be introduced in the Legislature. Those include:
• Increases to state fuel taxes.
• Increases in annual registration fees for all vehicles.
• New fees on electric or hybrid vehicles to produce revenue commensurate with the amount of fuel taxes that a traditional vehicle of equal weight would pay annually.
“There aren’t that many electric cars in the state right now, but they will increase drastically in the next 10 years, so we have to address it now,” Proehl said.