Let there be no mistake: Kansas roads and highways need work. Let there also be no mistake: doing so is a costly business.
That having been stipulated, it is fair to question the methodology behind the 10-year, $8 billion T-Works program implemented by the 2010 Kansas Legislature and signed by former Gov, Mark Parkinson.
Begin with the program’s purpose, which, quoting from the Department of Transportation’s own website, is “to create jobs, preserve highway infrastructure, and provide multimodal economic development opportunities across the state.” That’s three stated purposes, two of which are not declaratively pertinent to the conditions of the roads and highways themselves.
Potentially more troubling, though, are the legislative conditions imposed upon the program in order to ensure passage. Those conditions included a requirement that a minimum of $8 million be spent in every county in the state over the course of the 10-year program.
We would not contend that roads or highways statewide are in exemplary or even good condition. We know they are not. On the other hand, we also wouldn’t contend that roads and highways everywhere are deficient and in need of upgrade. That’s for the experts at KDOT to decide…and that’s precisely why the political requirement now being put into action that funds be distributed at a certain minimum basis without respect to statewide priority is so onerous. The legislature could have given KDOT the $8 billion over 10 years with instructions to identify the roads and bridges of greatest need and apply the money wisely. It chose not to do so.
Instead lawmakers give every appearance of having resorted to a tried and true legislative strategy of asking one simple question: “where’s mine?”
Study the data elsewhere on this page to see the impact of that decision. It looks at the T-Works program as it is unfolding or will unfold in seven of the state’s counties. These counties have several things in common. They are areas of light and declining population. For that reason, highway use generally is also declining. Yet in defiance of those trends the state is pouring money by the millions into the upkeep and in some cases the expansion of county highways, and it is doing so without any effort to prioritize the state’s actual highway and bridge repair needs.
To repeat, state roads, highways and bridges do need work. That work is and will be expensive. But the progress of that work ought not to be driven on a political basis.