Borrowing from Kansas road fund could get look from task force

by Stephen Koranda, Kansas News Service

Kansas has repeatedly dipped into its highway fund in recent years to balance the budget for all of state government.

Now lawmakers are contemplating a task force to study what that’s meant for the state’s roads and bridges.

Following the borrowing, road projects saw delays across the state. The task force would study the sidelined projects and suggest long-term transportation strategies for Kansas.

Lawmakers in a Senate committee amended the proposal Wednesday to add more representatives from trade groups, growing the size of the task force to more than 30 people. However, they’re waiting before deciding whether to advance the bill.

“We’re going to let it sit and rest a little bit,” Republican Ways and Means Committee Chair Carolyn McGinn said. “We can continue to do work if we need to, if more information is provided.”

The Kansas Contractors Association says transfers from the highway fund have totaled more than $2 billion since 2010.

The state has delayed dozens of transportation projects in recent years, ranging from simple repavings to major expansion projects, such as updating a two-lane highway to a four-lane expressway near Baxter Spring in southeast Kansas.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted to add additional members to the panel representing industries such as cement and paving, as well as people appointed by a transportation advocacy group.

Republican Sen. John Skubal is pushing the bill. He said the state needs need to focus on reliable transportation funding, because skimping on projects and maintenance now will create bigger costs in the future.

“I would like to get a list of projects that Kansans think that we should be doing,” Skubal said this week, “and then start looking at the funding portion of this.”

Skubal said the task force would look at whether the state has followed through with promises from the last 10-year transportation plan, known as T-Works.

He wants to consider new ways to pay for roads, such as charging drivers ot access express lanes on busy highways. Lawmakers could also look for partnerships where projects are jointly funded by the state, local governments and private organizations that would benefit from the new roads.

Whatever the approach, he said, it can’t be the practice in recent years of “sweeps” that divert money from the highway fund to balance general state spending.

“We know that if the sweeps continue, we’re not going to have a program that is workable,” Skubal said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning said the bill has good prospects, but he’s not so bullish on the idea of boosting funding for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Denning said lawmakers were optimistic about the state’s finances at the end of the 2017 session. They had reversed many of the 2012 tax cuts after several years of budget deficits.

Then, the state’s highest court ruled that funding for schools was not adequate.

“We had thought that we had solved the tax-and-budget problem when we went home,” Denning said, “until we got the new Supreme Court ruling.”

Denning said tackling schools will take priority this year and may derail proposals to boost spending on roads.

The question now is whether lawmakers who want to look at highway funding will have any dollars available for the programs in the coming years.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.
See more at

Two robbery suspects sought

The public is asked to help identify persons in connection with a robbery on June 19, 2017, at the Snack Pack store on South 55th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo from Sheriff’s Office)

The public is asked to help identify persons in connection with a robbery on June 19, 2017, at the Snack Pack store on South 55th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo from Sheriff’s Office)

The public is asked to help identify persons in connection with a robbery on June 19, 2017, at the Snack Pack store on South 55th Street in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo from Sheriff’s Office)

Authorities are trying to find two robbery suspects.

Two unidentified men, one wearing a red and the other, a gray hoodie, on June 19 robbed the Snack Pack store on South 55th Street in Kansas City, Kansas, according to officials.

They had a gun, and the taller of the two suspects put a gun against the store clerk’s head and demanded money, according to a Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

The taller man in a red hoodie and ball cap is about 6-feet tall and 180 pounds.

The shorter man in a gray hoodie is about 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds.

Anyone with information may call the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office at 913-573-8072.

Downtown KCK area preparing for two-year westbound viaduct shutdown

Downtown Kansas City, Kansas, is preparing for a two-year shutdown of the westbound Lewis and Clark Viaduct.

Kansas Department of Transportation officials have announced some temporary closures to start tonight, while the permanent closure will begin Feb. 4. The viaduct connects Kansas City, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas.

“We’re quite aware that downtown may be hard to reach for some folks who are not used to coming from Kansas City, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas,” said Chuck Schlittler, director of the Downtown Shareholders of Kansas City, Kansas. “So we’ll do a survey, to see what impact there is.”

The Downtown Shareholders plan to conduct a survey of businesses in about a week or so to see if there has been any effect from the viaduct shutdown, he said.

The Downtown Shareholders handed out information to many businesses downtown on Wednesday, he said. They have been in contact with the engineers for the project, as well as the Missouri Department of Transportation and Kansas Department of Transportation, and have been in touch with the Unified Government Public Works Department about detour signage, he said.

The detour route is expected to empty onto Central Avenue, and there will be street signs and electronic signs to show a detour route from Central to 7th Street, 7th north to Minnesota Avenue, and the east, he said.

Also, KDOT and MoDOT are sending updated smart phone map information with detour information for those who will be using GPS systems, he said.

“We’ve been in touch with the folks overseeing the project, and steps are being taken to mitigate it as much as possible,” Schlittler said.

He said he hopes, with the cooperation of the weather, that the project might be finished early.

Some downtown businesses such as the Hilton Garden Inn and establishments such as Breit’s might be affected by the viaduct closure. There might be some activities such as roller derby competitions at Memorial Hall that might be affected also, he said. The survey will find how much other businesses may be affected, he added.

Schlittler said he expected that people who live in Kansas City, Kansas, and work in Kansas City, Missouri, will be able to find their way back home without too many problems; it’s just people who may not often come to Kansas City,Kansas, from Kansas City, Missouri, who may have difficulties.

Details from KDOT about the viaduct closure:

Temporary closures will begin tonight to install traffic control signs for the reconstruction of the westbound I-70 bridge. The full two-year closure will begin Feb. 4.

Temporary closures:
• 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, to 5 a.m. Friday, Feb. 2: I-35 northbound will have intermittent lane closures from 17th St. to I-70 (in Missouri) to place overhead sign placards.

• 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4: I-70 westbound will be closed from past Admiral Boulevard (in Missouri northeast corner of the downtown loop) to 3rd Street in Kansas City, Kansas, to place traffic control for the long-term closure past Broadway. This closure will include all ramps on or off the interstate between those points.

Permanent closures:
• 5 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, to a tentative date of Dec. 31, 2019: I-70 westbound will be closed past Broadway Blvd. (in Missouri northwest corner of the downtown loop) to 3rdSt. in Kansas City, Kansas.

• Ramps from Broadway Boulevard, Beardsley Road and I-35 to I-70 westbound (in Missouri) will be closed.

• Ramps from I-70 westbound (in Kansas) to Minnesota Avenue, Washington Boulevard, and Fairfax Trafficway will be closed.

• After the traffic control measures over the weekend are complete, Broadway and I-35 southbound will be accessible from I-70 westbound throughout the duration of the two-year construction.

• The main detour route will travel around the downtown loop or come up I-35 northbound to use I-670 westbound.

• The secondary route will use I-35 southbound to the 27thStreet exit.

• To detour to Kansas City, Kansas, use the Central Avenue Exit from I-670 westbound. To facilitate traffic operations using the Central Avenue exit:

o A second lane will be added to the 3rd St.-James St. exit ramp from I-70.

o Temporary signals will be added to the two intersections.

Motorists may continue to check the Kansas City Metro page on the KDOT website for more details at