TOPEKA – An organization that represents highway construction companies plans to lobby the Kansas Legislature during the upcoming session to discourage transfers of money from the state’s highway fund to the general fund and will work to elect candidates who vow to protect highway funding, the organization’s president said.
Bob Totten, executive vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association, said transferring highway money will compromise the safety of the state’s nearly 140,000 miles of roadways and will cost the state more money in the long run, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
“Our message basically is that we’re not taking care of the quality of life,” Totten said.
Since Kansas lawmakers approved the current 10-year, $8 billion highway program known as T-Works in 2010, state officials have frequently raided the fund to cover revenue shortfalls in other areas. About $300 million has been transferred to the general fund this year.
The transfers mean many planned preservation projects, such as repaving and repairing potholes, won’t be done, Totten said, forcing the state to pay more for repairs in the future.
“We were scheduled to (repair) or fix 115 bridges a year. That’s an average,” he said. “We’re going to do 58. That doesn’t work, and our contention, as the pros who know the work, is that in three or four years, or five years, we’re going to have to do substantially more.”
He said the T-Works plan called for doing an average of 1,200 miles of preservation work each year but the state transportation department is doing 200 miles for the next two years.
Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King argues that the highway fund transfers will not hurt the T-Works program or the state’s highways.
“Our interstate is system is No. 1 in the nation in terms of the quality of our interstate,” he said. “We’re in the top five or top 10 in the nation in our state routes and bridges. We’re meeting our targets.”
He said the state could afford to use highway funds for other purposes because many projects have cost substantially less than anticipated, mostly because of low petroleum prices, low interest rates and a new federal highway bill he said will bring up to $30 million a year in additional federal highway funds.
The delaying of some preservation projects will not cause excessive deterioration of those roads, King said, in part because new asphalt is a better product.
Totten said he has heard that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration may ask for as much as $50 million in highway fund transfers during the upcoming session, but King said he has not heard that suggestion.