Highway projects announced in August will proceed as scheduled despite the state’s looming budget hole, Transportation Secretary Mike King said Wednesday.
In August, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced $1.2 billion in highway projects set to begin in 2015 and 2016, including an expansion of the interchange of I-235 and Kellogg in Wichita estimated to cost $116 million.
In October, the department announced it was ready to start construction of the upgrade of east Kellogg at the Kansas Turnpike interchange.
In November, the state recalculated its revenue estimates. Kansas faces a $279 million shortfall for this fiscal year, which ends in June, and an additional shortfall of $436 million for the following fiscal year.
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Some conservatives, such as Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, have already floated the highway fund as a place lawmakers could find extra dollars. Democrats warn that could put the brakes on the state’s T-Works plan.
King said the projects scheduled for 2015 and 2016, which would include the two Kellogg projects, will proceed as planned.
“We’re committed to the projects that we have announced for the next two years, the $1.2 billion for calendar years ’15 and ’16,” King said before a meeting of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors. “So as people are talking about (the) budget and talking about, you know, how to help secure that, we’re in good shape.”
King was a bit less certain when asked about projects set to begin in 2017. The state has announced several.
“It all depends on how large the numbers that we’re talking about (are), but I think all of us are committed to – I know in Gov. Brownback’s administration – are committed to funding transportation at the appropriate levels,” King said.
Democrats warned before the election that income tax cuts signed into law by Brownback would drain the state’s funding for transportation and other services in coming years. The cuts have been mentioned as the primary cause of the state’s shortfall.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, noted that T-Works, which was passed in 2010, is a 10-year plan and is not yet halfway done.
“If there is any sort of definitive job growth in the future it’s the highway plan,” he said. “Because it was estimated that the highway plan would create 175,000 jobs over 10 years, which is far more certain than Sam Brownback’s income tax cuts by comparison. … So while the secretary may say ’15 and ’16 are okay, what about the remaining five years?”
The city of Wichita includes full funding for the T-Works program as an item on its prospective legislative agenda for the coming session.