Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): Kansas Will Continue to Have Roads

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kansas Will Continue to Have Roads

Alert the press: Kansas will continue to have roads and infrastructure in the years to come. 

Last week, Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King announced he's leaving the agency. Cue the flying monkeys. 

The members of a liberal mutual admiration society known as #ksleg on the Twitter had a field day, theorizing that King was resigning because KDOT funding is being diverted to other places in the state's budget. My list of more likely reasons King is departing:

  • As he said, he's leaving to return to private business.
  • He likes Hesston better than Topeka and wants to go home.
  • It's not fun serving in the cabinet of an unpopular, lame duck administration.
  • He's tired of liberals using his department as some sort of weird rallying cry.
Let's dispel a few rumors. 

First, the fallacy of highway spending being too limited. In 2011, the state highway fund spent $1.185 billion. In 2016, the state highway fund will spend $1.345 billion. Budgeted expenditures for the state highway fund in 2017 are $1.367 billion, and $1.178 billion in 2018.

Despite so-called legendary cuts to transportation funding, Kansas is number 5 in highway performance. Some of that high ranking is likely due to our extravagant funding for highways, and some of that may be due to less drivers. I don't want to shock anyone, but Kansas is not the most populous state in the nation. We have fewer urban areas than most states, fewer drivers.

Second, in the urban area that is Johnson County, you can't swing a steering wheel without hitting an orange barrel. Off the top of my head, exits off of Interstate 35 in Johnson County currently under construction: Santa Fe/135th Street, Interstate 435, 95th Street, Johnson Drive, US 69. That's road construction all within 12 miles. Drivers should be celebrating that KDOT is going to take a year off from road construction in the Jo.  (Side note and unrelated: The diverging diamonds make me feel stabby, and those weird tunnels at 75th Street and 87th Street--those are going to need a redesign in the near future. They're brand new, and they don't alleviate traffic issues--their stated purpose.)

One major problem in Kansas and at KDOT: The tug of war that occurs between urban and rural areas of the state. State officials struggle to "fairly" divide highway projects across the state. This means roads to nowhere in western Kansas that see about 5 cars per year get a makeover every time a Johnson County road is repaired. This means KDOT money isn't always used in the most economical, sensible way. 

Many, even conservatives (Come on, guys! Come on!), are lamenting the fact that we have fewer highway projects planned in the immediate future, but this needs to be put into perspective. A mere 5 years ago, KDOT was awash in stimulus money. As is typical in government spending, some of that money was practically flushed down the toilet. See U.S. 59. This road that runs from Lawrence to somewhere was "realigned." Highway workers MOVED the road over a few feet. Buying the right-of-way for such a project must have been an outrageous cost. If Kansas goes a few years without spending a single dime on its highways--which won't happen, by the way. It just won't--the Sunflower State will survive. And if by some miracle, the state decides to slow its roll on building extravagant highways for tens of drivers per year, maybe that funding can be spent on moving government schools to a higher nationwide ranking. Kansas is number 5 in highways and number middle-of-the-pack in government school outcomes. 

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