Lawmakers question $15 million savings in merger of KDOT, Kansas Turnpike

Frustration over how Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration would save $15 million a year by folding the Kansas Turnpike Authority into the Kansas Department of Transportation emerged during a Senate budget meeting Tuesday.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, pressed KDOT Secretary Mike King to provide specifics on where the savings comes from, given that administration officials say the merger doesn’t portend any big changes in road construction and tolling.

“We have a whole laundry list of things we’d like to visit with,” King said about the savings. “As far as did we come up with a ‘here are the 19 things that added up to a $15 million,’ no we do not have that list.”

King suggested KDOT and KTA could save money by sharing engineering, pavement, purchasing and insurance services. But he declined to elaborate.

“I can’t be specific on where those are at,” he said, adding he would start working with the KTA to find those savings if lawmakers pass a bill allowing the KTA to fold into KDOT.

The $30 million in savings in 2014 and 2015 are part of Brownback’s proposed budget.

“It seems arbitrary,” Kelly said. “It seems like a number just picked out of thin air because that made the books balance.”

Andover Republican Sen. Ty Masterson said merging two huge transportation departments will certainly produce savings.

“There has to be a significant amount of duplication,” he said. “$15 million, in my opinion, is probably shy of what can probably be saved by just eliminating some duplication.”

The merger would put the independent KTA, which uses toll money to maintain the state’s 236-mile turnpike, inside of KDOT while retaining its board and authorities. Toll fees have to be spent on the turnpike, but the state could change laws to allow toll money for other projects, such as maintaining roads that link with the turnpike.