highways

Andy Marso / KHI News Service

A Kansas senator says a highway project in his district is back on schedule, drawing protests from Democrats who say Republican Gov. Sam Brownback picked that project over others to help a political ally in an election year.

The project to widen U.S. Highway 69 north of Pittsburg from two lanes to four was one of 25 delayed in April to help balance the state budget.

It sits in the district of Republican Sen. Jake LaTurner, who sent an open letter to Brownback decrying the delay.

Doug Kerr, flickr Creative Commons

Gov. Sam Brownback’s three options for balancing the state budget include taking about $185 million from the highway fund.

As a result, the Kansas Department of Transportation is holding off on 25 major projects, including two in Reno and Harvey counties.

Fourteen projects will be delayed in fiscal year 2017 at an estimated construction cost of $271 million; 9 projects are on hold in the fiscal year 2018 at an estimated construction cost of $247 million; and two projects are on hold in fiscal year 2019 at an estimated construction cost of $35 million.

Doug Kerr / Flickr Creative Commons

The new Kansas revenue forecast, set to be released next week, could ultimately affect Kansas highways and bridges as well as the crews who build and maintain them.

It’s widely expected the state’s revenue projection will be lowered. Bob Totten, with the Kansas Contractors Association, says there's a chance additional money could be taken from the highway fund to help fill the budget gap.

“We might see $50 million taken away after the revenue estimates are released April 20th. It could go a little higher than that,” Totten says.

Doug Kerr / Flickr Creative Commons

A Kansas House committee is considering bills that would bolster funding for the Highway Patrol with the goal of hiring more state troopers.

The proposals would either divert current registration fees to the Kansas Highway Patrol or add a new $2 fee to help hire 75 troopers over three years. Patrol Superintendent Colonel Mark Bruce says the current shortage means they can’t respond to every call, so local police departments have to pick up the slack.

Doug Kerr / Flickr Creative Commons

A lobbying campaign being waged by highway contractors has Kansas lawmakers on the defensive.

Billboards put up by the contractors accuse Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers of committing “highway robbery” by diverting more than a billion dollars from the transportation department to plug holes in the state budget.

Sen. Jeff Melcher fired back at a Statehouse hearing today Wednesday. The Leawood Republican called the charges a “gross misrepresentation of reality.”

Stephen Koranda

Kansas lawmakers have shifted hundreds of millions of dollars out of the State Highway Fund to help balance the budget in recent years. While this will likely cause some road maintenance projects to be delayed, other upgrades are still moving forward.

One of those projects affects homeowners in northeast Kansas who are convinced the transportation department is now cutting corners because of the state's tight budget. Stephen Koranda traveled to Alta Vista to learn more.

Stephen Koranda

Lawmakers in Congress face a deadline next month to pass legislation funding the nation's highway system.

The current law will expire at the end of May.

Stephen Koranda reports, Republican Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins says one solution is off the table.

Jenkins says Republican leaders in the U.S. House probably won’t consider a hike in the gas tax.

Some other proposals would change tax rules for overseas corporate profits and earmark that money as a highway funding stream. But Jenkins isn’t entire on board with that idea.

A plan to expand U.S. 50 in southwestern Kansas no longer includes leveling a historic rock formation.

U.S. 50 expansion from a two-lane road into a four-lane expressway will use a paved 16-foot median as it passes the Point of Rocks formation, which was once used as a navigational aid for travelers and cowboys along the Santa Fe Trail.

The original plan would have leveled the formation.

But the Kansas Department of Transportation considered other options after discussions with groups, including the Santa Fe Trail Association.

Preservationists are fighting a plan to widen U.S. 50 near Dodge City.

State transportation officials say the four-lane expansion from Dodge City to Cimarron would likely require leveling the "Points of Rock" monument.

It's a steel sculpture of several horsemen sitting on top of a rock outcropping, with the words "Dodge City," and supporters say it's an important landmark along the Santa Fe Trail.

The expansion plans include a 60-foot-wide median between the old and new lanes of the highway, which would take down a big part of the hill where the sculpture stands.

Wikipedia

America's highways are littered with loose ends. In Houston, relics of an incomplete inner city project loom on the east and west ends with nothing in-between. In Portland, ramps built to merge with the Mt. Hood Freeway simply drop off into an overgrown field.

In the 1930s, construction began on a highway that would cross Pennsylvania’s unruly terrain, following a path developed by the railroad magnate William Vanderbilt. But by the 60s, the route had bypassed a long segment and a narrow tunnel in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. The highway is now slowly being recaptured by nature.