After three months of traveling across the state, the transportation task force finished their work a few weeks ago. Our charge was to access all our modes of transportation and make a report to the 2019 Legislature.
What did we learn? The needs are great and different all across the state. West of highway 81, shoulders, turn lanes and surface improvements are needed due to the increased truck traffic. In our urban areas, congestion due to population growth and economic growth. Most projects fall into three categories, preservation, modernization and expansion.
Preservation primarily consists of sealing the surface of existing roads. Generally, 1- 3 inches in thickness. Due to the budget constraints from the recession and tax changes, preservation was limited. Preservation is important because it preserves our subsurface which saves us from replacing roads in the long run.
Modernization deals with adding shoulders and taking out tight curves and dips and valleys of a road. Many times, doing modernization projects you also address preservation. Shoulders are needed due to wider loads such as transportation of wind generators and other industrial products that have taken place in western and other rural parts of Kansas.
Expansion addresses the tremendous growth we are seeing in our heavily populated areas of our state, Johnson and Sedgwick counties. In 2029 Sedgwick County is expected to be 530,323 and Johnson county 734,065 according to WSU, Center for Economic Development and Business Research. The intermodal in Edgerton and the Legends in Wyandotte County are examples of infrastructure needed that brought in jobs and business development to our state.
In Sedgwick County, many of us that use the north junction (235 and I-35) to go east and west in Sedgwick county and link us to highway 50 in Newton and 254 to El Dorado. The congestion is beginning earlier and lasting longer in addition to safety challenges of trying to get on and off the ramps.
After identifying what was needed in the next 10 year program, the task force had to come up with something that was affordable and within our budget. The number one recommendation was to quit stealing from the sales tax that was dedicated for transportation. The second, finish T-Works. We can achieve many of the proposals with the dedicated sales tax. The question becomes, how long do we want to wait to do the economic development projects that the Sedgwick and Johnson County regions need?
In order to address many of the economic needs, there were recommendations made to provide local units of government some tools to be a bigger player. One recommendation would be to give local units of government some demand transfers that they have not been receiving. If the state started to make these transfers, they would be restricted to transportation needs.
Other ways to provide local government a greater participation level would be some kind of a relief valve on the property tax lid. Local units of government would only be able to use it for economic development projects and the bill language would need to be very specific. The gas tax could be looked at since it has not changed along with fees for electric motor vehicles, EMV. EMV’s do help decrease emissions into the environment but they are still weight and wear on our roads. There have been more and more announcements that car companies plan to increase the amount of hybrid and EMV’s in the near future. As this happens, we will see a decrease in motor fuel tax receipts and a rise in EMV fee receipts. Tolling on major arterials and fees for extraordinarily heavy and wide loads were other ideas discussed.
Rail was given some attention, particularly the Heartland Flyer, passenger rail from Newton to Oklahoma City and the importance of short line freight in our rural areas. Improving modes such as public transit, aviation, bicycle and pedestrian accessibility was also part of the report.
Finally, the report suggested an oversight committee to review where we are at five years into the program to see if any adjustments need to be made. Keep in mind, these are only recommendations by what the task force heard and saw. They will be reviewed by the appropriate committees during the 2019 legislative session and later made into bill form to ensure we continue to have safe highways and other infrastructure.
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