KDOT has just two new Johnson County projects on tap

With what little highway money it has, the Kansas transportation department announced today a new construction program for the next three years that includes just two projects for Johnson County.

Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller announced $918 million in projects from 2010 through 2012 that include a new interchange on Kansas 7 and Johnson Drive in Shawnee and some interchange improvements on I-35 at Gardner Road.

About $28.8 million will go to the Shawnee project and $1.4 million will go toward interim road improvements at the Gardner Road interchange to help accommodate BNSF Railway’s proposed freight center. The two Johnson County projects are scheduled for next year.

The Shawnee interchange is part of an overall plan to convert K-7 into a freeway from Lansing to Spring Hill on the western side of the metro area. Johnson Drive and Kansas 7 is currently an at-grade, intersection with traffic signals.

City officials said the interchange would be one of the first steps to bringing K-7 up to freeway standards by creating an interchange where Johnson Drive would run underneath K-7. City officials estimate it won’t be completed until 2011.

The amount of money the Kansas Department of Transportation will spend on roads is about half of what was spent each year under the 10-year highway program that just wrapped up.

Kansas has highway needs priced at roughly $1.5 billion a year for the next 20 years, a lot higher than the $918 million the state plans to spend in the program announced today. Most of those needs — about $700 million — are highway upgrades to deal with increasing congestion, especially in areas like Johson County where traffic is a mess at K-10, I-435 and I-35.

Neither Kansas nor the federal government, however, is positioned to start new transportation plans in the immediate future.

The federal government appears to be putting off decisions on a new transportation bill until possibly next year. The same goes for the Kansas Legislature.

Congress and the Kansas Legislature are going to have to wrestle with how highways in the United States are funded - whether its increased gas taxes, toll roads or taxing drivers by how many miles they drive.

The federal situation could hurt Kansas even worse.

With a looming shortfall in the federal highway trust fund, Kansas stands to get $285 million less in 2010 than in 2009. If that happens, half the projects in the new construction program announced today would have to be chopped.

The lack of new money flowing into KDOT is reflected by how little the state is spending on major projects in the construction plan detailed this morning in Topeka.

Of the $918 million that will be spent in the plan, about $600 million will go for basic maintenance and $247 million will go for so-called major projects, the biggest of which is $50 million to reconstruct part of I-70 in Sherman County.

The balance of the money — about $71 million — will go for finishing the final phases of the last comprehensive transportation plan.