Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Op-Ed: Delivering transportation that meets the needs of Kansas

The Kansas Department of Transportation mission statement is “to provide a statewide transportation system to meet the needs of Kansas,” and we live up to it. Travelers appreciate our smooth highways; ambitious business owners find us accommodating; and proud Kansans like to talk about how our roads stack up against our neighbors.

KDOT Secretary Mike King
But in the past week or so, there’s been a lot of scrutiny of KDOT’s finances and ability to deliver project improvements. So I want to talk about why we are making the budget decisions we are.

It’s true; KDOT has transferred a significant amount of money from the State Highway Fund for use in other essential areas of state government. It’s been that way at least as far back as the 1989 transportation funding program. In fact, the current T-WORKS transportation program was passed with more than $1 billion in transfers to the State General Fund built into it. 

Favorable market conditions have allowed our industry to stretch KDOT’s core mission objectives. The price of oil is lower than it’s been in years. Interest rates on new money remain very low. KDOT’s operating budget is 20 percent below 2010 levels. And, in collaboration with our industry partners, we continue to stretch the life expectancy of our roads and bridges. 

The 2010 Legislature that passed the 10-year T-WORKS program authorized up to $1.7 billion in bonding as one of the program’s revenue sources. It capped the bonding component at 18 percent of all revenues. While KDOT is well below the overall bonding limit (and probably won’t ever reach that limit), agency leaders received permission from the 2015 Legislature to suspend the 18 percent cap for two years to take advantage of the extremely low rates and continue to build regionally-significant projects. KDOT will be back below the 18 percent cap in FY17.

Projects continue to be bid at lower-than-estimated levels.  We have even added money to projects and programs, such as U.S. 69 expansion in Southeast Kansas, U.S. 54 expansion in Wichita and the Geometric Improvement program. We’ve boosted the project size in the popular KLINK (City Connecting Link) program, which makes valued transportation improvements in cities. Our local partners continue to receive a third of all the Kansas gas tax revenue to support their own projects. We’ve done all of this while still maintaining a level of service above our stated goals.

We have many responsibilities at KDOT and we take them seriously.  We’ve built one of the great highway systems in the country and we intend to keep it that way.

--Transportation Secretary Mike King

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