Lane expansion for west leg of K-10 will be priority for state Rep.-elect Amyx; local leaders weigh in on other legislative priorities

photo by: Dylan Lysen

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, speaks during the Legislative Priority Breakfast at Maceli's on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2018. The Douglas County-based lawmakers listened to requests from local organizations and explained what will be their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

For state Rep.-elect Mike Amyx, D-Lawrence, addressing the “monster” Kansas Highway 10 corridor in the Lawrence area will be a priority during his freshman session as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives.

The western leg of the highway, which is in his district, has become a safety issue, Amyx said Thursday morning during a Legislative Priority Breakfast forum at Maceli’s in downtown Lawrence. The forum was hosted by the Lawrence chamber of commerce.

The state previously expanded parts of the highway in the Lawrence area from two lanes to four lanes but the west leg, from the U.S. Highway 59/Iowa Street interchange to North 1800 Road, has remained as two lanes. Wrecks on the western leg of the highway have spiked in recent years.

“We need to get it done for no other reason than it’s a safety issue,” Amyx said during the forum. “We have created a monster and we need to take care of that monster … That project needs to be moving right to the top for consideration.”

Amyx and the five other local Democratic lawmakers — state Reps. Barbara Ballard, Boog Highberger and Eileen Horn and state Sens. Marci Francisco and Tom Holland — listened to representatives from local organizations as they suggested issues they believed should be the lawmakers’ priorities during the upcoming session, which gets underway Monday.

Lawrence Mayor Stuart Boley told the lawmakers that the expansion of the highway was a priority for the city.

To fund the possible project, the state has considered adding a toll to the highway, which the city opposes. Local representatives have argued that the economic benefit to the community from the expansion of the lanes would cover the costs. Amyx said he agreed that a toll road was not necessary.

“This is such a key piece of infrastructure,” he said. “It’s about commerce, but right now it’s more importantly about safety.”

Ballard, who serves on the House transportation committee, said highway infrastructure projects would also be a priority for her.

She said Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer stopped the state’s use of the Kansas Department of Transportation budget as a “bank” to cover the rest of the state’s financial needs in recent years. The Legislature needs to invest those funds back into bridge and road improvements, she said.

The main issue the lawmakers will need to address during the legislative session is increasing funding for K-12 education to satisfy a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The lawmakers have passed several laws in recent years to address the funding issues but have failed to fully comply with the court ruling.

Jessica Beeson, president of the Lawrence school board, asked the lawmakers to find a way to increase the funding by $500 million, which she said would finally bring the issue to a close.

“The finish line is in view,” she said. “The sooner the Legislature takes up legislation to comply with the court’s orders, the sooner and better the outcome will be for USD 497.”

Beeson said she knows the local lawmakers are all “champions for public education” and thanked them for their work in Topeka.

At the higher education level, Reggie Robinson, vice chancellor for public affairs at the University of Kansas, asked the lawmakers to increase funding for the state’s six Regents universities by $85 million over the next two years, with $50 million of that funding coming in the first year. He said about $20 million of the $50 million first-year funding would be allocated to KU. The $85 million increase would put higher education funding at the same level as it was in 2008, he said.

Additionally, Ballard said she wanted to remove a state law that allows concealed carry of firearms on the campuses of the state’s universities.

Holland said he planned on filing a bill for legalizing medical marijuana. He said he had several constituents who have said they wanted the opportunity to treat certain conditions with the plant that has been legalized in several other states.

Several of the organizations also asked for the lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program. The lawmakers said they generally agreed with the requests from the organizations.

“As usual, I haven’t heard anything you’ve presented that I couldn’t support,” Highberger said.


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