Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback Proposes Delaying 25 Road Projects

Brownback by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed postponing more than $550 million in modernization and expansion planned by the state’s Department of Transportation. The delays would include 14 projects in fiscal 2017 with estimated construction costs of $271 million, nine in fiscal 2018 with an estimated construction cost of $247 million and two in fiscal 2019 with an estimated construction cost of $35 million. 

If the estimated $552 million in delays are approved by the Legislature before its upcoming adjournment, that money will go into the state’s general fund to help fix Kansas’ budget deficit. The delayed projects include such work as the addition of shoulders, passing lanes and remediation of hills and curves as well as adding capacity to the highway system.

“Our plan is to still build those projects at some point,” KDOT spokesman Steve Swartz said. “The idea is to delay, not cancel. Right now, we think the delay will be 18 to 24 months. What isn’t impacted is our preservation program — which averages $425 million over 10 years and focuses on pavement and bridge repair, resurfacing and replacement — that we intend to fund at about $400 million. Earlier transfers impacted our preservation program.”

Despite those assurances, the Kansas Motor Carriers Association isn’t happy with the proposed transfer of more than $505 million from the state’s roads and bridges in fiscal 2016, including $435 million previously announced, and $515 million in fiscal 2017, including $400 million previously announced..

“KMCA is deeply troubled by the governor’s proposal,” said Tom Whitaker, the association’s executive director. “Since 2010, the administration and the Legislature have diverted more than $1.4 billion in sales tax revenue dedicated for highway infrastructure. All of that has been used to balance the state’s budget shortfall caused by declining revenues from the oil industry and Kansas agriculture, but primarily from tax cuts instituted in 2012 by the governor and Legislature. The postponement of highway construction projects will only add to the budget shortfall because of the loss of good-paying jobs in the construction industry.” 

Swartz, who has been with KDOT almost 12 years, said transfers out of the department pre-date Brownback taking office in 2011.

“This is not uncommon, going back to the 10-year transportation program that was passed in 1999,” Swartz said. “This is one of the biggest transfers, but we’ve had bigger ones.”