Looking at a map of Kansas and its demographics, one can readily see that the bulk of the population and economic “punch” of the state is in the area bounded by those three points. This area includes cities such as Lenexa, Olathe, Overland Park, Kansas City, KS, Gardner, Ottawa, Topeka, Emporia, Wichita, Independence, Parsons, Iola, Chanute, Pittsburg, and Ft. Scott. Of particular note is the inter-modal facility being completed at Gardner.
Enter T-Works. T-Works is the state-sponsored program to make significant improvements to the transportation system over a 10-year period. These improvements are to be funded by bonding authority and by a .4 percent state-wide sales tax. T-Works follows on the heels of the Comprehensive Highway Plan and the Comprehensive Transportation Plan, a total of 30 years worth of improvements to the vital economic lifeline of the state. While T-Works is a needed and robust program, it will not satisfy all the transportation modernization of the state. Sooner or later, discussions must begin to answer the question, “What next?”
As a result of these three plans, significant improvements have been made along US 400, connecting Wichita to SE Kansas, and along US 69, connecting SE Kansas to Kansas City.
T-Works will add to those improvements with many passing lane projects along US 400, including a project in Cherokee County that will “punch the hole in I-44”, and two projects adding four-lanes from Ft. Scott to Pittsburg.
These projects are scheduled to begin construction in 2017 — and that is good, so long as the Kansas Department of Transportation is permitted to actually execute the plan and actually complete all the projects as they have been announced.
The reason for the trepidation is that the Legislature and/or the State Finance Council has a pretty strong record over the last 20 years of taking money from the Highway Fund to bolster other areas of the state budget — all this to the tune of about $1 billion that could have been used for its intended purpose, transportation improvements.
Now, enter the 2013 session of the state legislature and the looming huge hole in the ending balance of the state budget, presently projected to be about $300 million.
What to do? The state constitution requires a balanced budget. That projected hole has to be filled somehow.
There are many different solutions to the problem, but one solution the US Highway 69 Association urges NOT be used is to grab additional funds intended to implement T-Works. Taking those funds would greatly inhibit KDOT from delivering on the promise of T-Works — to improve transportation, create jobs, and bolster economic development.
The area bounded by those three dots on the Kansas map is depending on T-Works to go to work for us. Indeed, all of Kansas is depending on that.