Task force agrees on outline of next Kansas transportation program, but has few details on funding

photo by: Peter Hancock

Julie Lorenz, of the engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, takes notes as members of a legislative task force settle on their final recommendations for a new multi-year transportation plan for Kansas during a meeting Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.

TOPEKA – A joint legislative task force agreed Thursday to a general outline of a new multiyear transportation program. However, the plan offers few details about how much the state should spend or how any new projects should be financed, because it’s not known how much new funding, if any, lawmakers are willing to approve.

“We didn’t want to get involved in details because that means drafting legislation and that’s the job of the legislative body,” Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who co-chaired the task force, said in an interview after the group’s final meeting Thursday.

“This report would actually go to the appropriate committees, whatever leadership would assign it to, and then go through the hearings and a bill would be drafted out of that,” she added.

The task force did, however, agree on a set of principles and priorities, starting with a statement that any new transportation program must have a stable and consistent source of funding, something that has been difficult in recent years as money earmarked for highway projects was diverted to make up for shortfalls in the state general fund.

Beyond that, the task force said the first priority of any new plan should be to finish within the next four years the roughly 21 projects that were delayed or left unfinished from the current T-Works program, which expires this year.

Those projects are largely in rural counties, and most involve widening or reconstructing existing state highways.

That can be accomplished using existing revenue streams, officials from the Kansas Department of Transportation said, provided lawmakers agree to protect at least $300 million a year in sales tax revenue that is already earmarked for transportation projects.

During that four-year period, the task force said, KDOT could also begin doing preliminary design and engineering work on future expansion and modernization projects, such as widening the west leg of the K-10 bypass around Lawrence into a four-lane expressway. Funding for those projects, however, would require new revenue.

Among the options the task force is asking lawmakers to consider are: imposing new fees on electric vehicles; increasing vehicle registration fees; raising the state’s motor fuel tax rate; and asking city and county governments to share in the cost of projects in their areas.

The group also endorsed the idea of giving local governments more resources by reviving a state revenue-sharing program that sends a portion of the state motor fuel tax back to cities and counties for local road and bridge projects. It also suggested easing existing limits on the ability of local governments to increase property tax revenues from one year to the next.

During public meetings over the last several months, communities identified more than 280 new projects totaling an estimated $18 billion that they would like to see funded.

Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, co-chair of the task force and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he was pleased overall with the work the task force had done.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said in an interview. “It didn’t satisfy everybody’s needs and wants, and I understand that. But I think we’re going to have a product that we can take as a Legislature and figure out what we need to do as far as making any changes in statute. We’ll work toward that and hopefully get going on a new program.”

A final document won’t be available to the public for at least a few weeks. McGinn said legislative staff will use notes from the final meetings to draft a report, which will then be circulated among task force members for final edits and approval.

A spokesperson for Gov.-elect Laura Kelly said in an email Thursday that Kelly looks forward to seeing the final report, but offered no specifics about what kind of plan Kelly hopes to see passed.


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