Editorial: KDOT sweeps continue to harm our state

by HCAGKC
on 15 September 2016
Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016
By The Capital-Journal Editorial Board

Earlier this year, $185 million was removed from the highway fund to counteract meager state revenue collections. This sweep was announced alongside the decision to put 25 highway projects on hold — 14 projects in fiscal year 2017 (worth $271 million), nine projects in FY 2018 ($247 million) and two projects in FY 2019 ($35 million).

Kansas has more than 140,000 miles of public roads — the fourth most in the U.S. Such a massive network requires substantial public investment in maintenance and new projects, and some transportation advocates are worried that the state’s revenue crisis will prevent much of this necessary work from getting done.

For example, the Brownback administration has transferred more than $1 billion from the Kansas Department of Transportation to the state general fund over the past few years. The chief executive officer of Kansas Lifelines, Michael Johnston, is critical of Brownback for consistently depleting highway funds as a way to address the revenue shortfall: “Over the last six years, the transportation budget — taxpayer dollars which ensure the safety of Kansans and the viability of our economy — has been used to fill holes in the budget.”

Earlier this year, $185 million was removed from the highway fund to counteract meager state revenue collections. This sweep was announced alongside the decision to put 25 highway projects on hold — 14 projects in fiscal year 2017 (worth $271 million), nine projects in FY 2018 ($247 million) and two projects in FY 2019 ($35 million).

The executive vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association, Bob Totten, is worried that KDOT won’t be able to revive these projects in the future: “I just don’t really see them coming back. It’s frustrating our leaders don’t understand what they’re doing to the transportation system.” Totten cited Kansas companies — such as Topeka-based Koss Construction and Venture Corp. in Great Bend — that have looked for jobs outside the state when KDOT has canceled projects in the past.

According to Totten, $2.7 billion has been swept from KDOT to the state general fund over the past six years.

If the past year is any indication, Totten is right about the harmful effects of KDOT sweeps on the construction industry in our state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between July 2015 and July 2016, Kansas lost 4,400 construction jobs — a 7.3 percent decline. This means Kansas ranked 49th in the country for construction job growth. Meanwhile, 39 states have gained construction jobs over the same period of time, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

In a Sept. 9 news release, KDOT announced that 96.7 percent of interstate miles and 91.7 percent of non-interstate miles are in “good” condition. The agency says these numbers exceed their targets of 85 percent and 80 percent, respectively. The quality of non-interstate miles improved from 90.3 percent a year ago, while interstate miles declined from 97.7 percent. After this information was made public, Gov. Sam Brownback said, “Kansas has a history of outstanding roads, and I’m proud to continue that tradition.”

However, if his administration keeps taking money from KDOT to sustain the state general fund, our “history of outstanding roads” might be coming to an end.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Darren Canady, Garry Cushinberry, Matt Gassen, Mike Hall, Jessica Hosman, Jessica Lucas, Vern McFalls, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.