“I hate getting that report — it’s frustrating,” King, Kansas Secretary of Transportation, told the First Friday Forum audience at Washburn Towers, 526 S. Main St. “Safety was at the top of my list when I got this job seven months ago.”
King, owner of King Enterprise Group, a nearly 100-year-old contractor company started by his grandfather in McPherson, was appointed to the secretary’s post in March by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The Hesston native and construction veteran talked with the audience about how expanding U.S. 59 to four lanes between Lawrence and Ottawa — the final portion of which opened last month — should not only improve safety but lower commute times. The 19-mile project cost $145 million — $82 million of which was spent in Douglas County and $63 million in Franklin County.
The secretary predicted the Kansas Department of Transportation would wrap up the I-35 interchange project near Gardner next summer, in conjunction with the opening of the BNSF Railway Co.’s intermodal facility. The interchange is being built to accommodate the expected surge in truck traffic and other growth associated with the intermodal venture.
The forum’s featured speaker focused most of his presentation on the state’s Transportation Works for Kansas [T-Works] program. Adopted by the Kansas Legislature in 2010, T-Works is a 10-year, $7.8-billion program designed to create jobs, preserve highway infrastructure and provide multi-modal economic development opportunities across the state, according to KDOT’s website.
T-Works consists of 37 road projects across Kansas, King said. KDOT has extended $1.4 billion in project bids connected with the program to date, and the department expects to award $6 billion in projects during the 10-year life of the program.
The secretary said $4.2 billion of the work will be dedicated to highway preservation.
In addition, $1.8 billion would be spent on modernization and expansion projects, he said, which would constitute new roads.
T-Works doesn’t consist solely of highway preservation and expansion projects, King said. The program has slated $100 million to improve bus transit systems in portions of the state, as well as $46 million targeted at aviation and $40 million for rail.
Using a dollar bill to illustrate how the department receives its funding, King explained 28 cents of every $1 is generated through sales tax, 25 cents through motor fuel taxes and 22 cents through federal funding. Other revenue streams include such items as regulatory fees (12 cents per $1), bond proceeds (9 cents) and other revenues.
“Motor fuel tax revenues — one of our largest sources of revenue — are flat or declining,” King said, because people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and not spending as much at the gas pump. “I just traded in my Suburban, which was getting 13 miles per gallon, for a Ford Escape, which gets 23 miles per gallon. And that’s just one car. When you multiply that by everyone else who is doing the same thing, you can see why motor fuel taxes are flat or on the decline.”
A couple of options might be to increase the motor fuel tax or put in more toll roads, King said, though no new toll roads and turnpikes currently are in the works.
Using the same dollar bill analogy, 47 cents of every dollar spent by KDOT goes to construction, King said, with another 17 cents diverted back to city and county governments for local road and bridge projects. About 10 cents of every dollar is dedicated to routine maintenance projects KDOT undertakes itself, the secretary said, rather than putting the work out for contract bid.
King said KDOT has periodic meetings in communities across the state to learn from local officials what commercial and industrial projects are in the works.
“Part of my job is to make sure you are successful,” King told the audience. “That means building the right road, in the right place, at the right time.”
Also at the forum, Blaine Finch, interim director of the Franklin County Development Council, introduced the economic development organization’s new director, Jeff Seymour, and his wife, Natasha, to the audience.
Seymour, 27, a graduate of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., has spent the past 2-1/2 years serving the Blackwell, Okla., community as the combined chamber of commerce and economic development organization executive director. He will be the first full-time director of FCDC.
Seymour is set to take the helm of FCDC Monday.
Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at email@example.com