Travel, celebrate Independence Day safely, authorities say

With a long weekend ahead, many Kansans are planning to hit the road and be out in their communities celebrating the Fourth of July. KDOT and the Kansas Highway Patrol encourage travelers to plan ahead to make their trips and celebrations as safe as possible.

Nationally AAA is projecting that 41.9 million Americans will travel during the long holiday weekend, which will be the most since 2007, and 84.7 percent of them will be driving. Contributing to the anticipated big numbers is the fact that gasoline is about 25 percent lower than last year, said Jim Hanni, of AAA of Kansas.

If you are traveling this weekend it’s important to remember not to drink and drive. In the last five reporting years nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (from 2009 to 2013), 750 people lost their lives in crashes involving drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more. Those fatalities account for 39% of all motor vehicle traffic deaths in that time period. In Kansas in 2014 there were 386 crashes over the July 4 reporting period (6 p.m. Thursday July 3, 2014 through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, July 6, 2014.) Three of those were fatality crashes and 95 were injury crashes. Of the 386 total crashes, 16 were alcohol-related.

Law enforcement agencies from across the state will be actively watching for impaired drivers.

“As travelers take to the highways throughout the holiday weekend there are steps they can take to make it to their destination safely,” Highway Patrol Lt. Adam Winters said. “Any time you ride in a vehicle, buckle up and make sure children are in the appropriate child safety seats. For those planning to drink over the weekend, designate your sober driver before you celebrate. We want people to enjoy the festivities, but we want them to be safe doing so.”

Before travelers pack their cars they can check their route for delays or construction with the help of KanDrive, www.kandrive.org. KanDrive includes camera images and interactive maps as well as links to rest areas and travel and tourism sites.

If you have a smartphone, you can access the site by going to www.kandrive.org and bookmarking it to your home screen so it’s ready when you need it. If users would prefer to use the text-based mobile website, it can be found at 511mm.ksdot.org.

Much of the same information can be accessed by calling 5-1-1 in Kansas or 1-866-511-KDOT (5368) in the U.S.

Know before you go by using these services from home or in a vehicle that is parked in a safe location. Do not use the phone while driving.

If you are involved in a crash on a Kansas highway call *47 (*HP) from a cell phone for a highway patrol dispatcher or if on the Kansas Turnpike, dial *582 (*KTA) or 911.

I-70 bridge repair project planned Tuesday

Eastbound I-70 from just west of I-635 to just east of Kaw Drive will be reduced to one open lane for overnight traffic shift work beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 7, in Wyandotte County.

It will reopen to all traffic at 5 a.m. Wednesday, July 8, weather permitting, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

During the overnight lane closures, all eastbound I-70 traffic will be shifted from the left two lanes to the right two lanes, so that repair work can be completed on the left lanes over the bridge, KDOT stated.

When the traffic shift is completed, eastbound I-70 from just west of I-635 to just east of Kaw Drive will be reopened to two through lanes of traffic throughout the duration of the project, according to KDOT.

Also, when the traffic shift is completed, the eastbound I-70 to Park Drive-Kaw Drive ramp will be reopened to all traffic, and will remain open, for the remainder of the project, according to KDOT.

A spokesman said drivers should expect delays during the overnight lane closures. Traffic will be directed through the project work zone via signs, cones and barricades, KDOT stated.

Updated daily traffic information for this reconstruction project and for the Greater Kansas City metro area on the Kansas side is available online at www.ksdot.org/kcmetro/laneclose.asp.

Project work is scheduled to be completed in December 2015, weather permitting, according to KDOT.

‘Perpetual’ funding for Kansas children’s programs all but gone

by Bryan Thompson, KHI News Service

A Topeka-based children’s advocacy group says legislators’ inability to keep their hands out of a pot of money meant to permanently fund children’s programs in Kansas has drained that funding source nearly dry.

Kansas Action for Children said the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund was established to invest the proceeds of a multi-state tobacco settlement in programs to benefit the health and welfare of Kansas children.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said lawmakers instead have tapped the KEY Fund again and again over the last 15 years, to the tune of almost $200 million, to support other budget priorities.

“There certainly was a choice,” she said. “Policymakers had the choice to repeal the tax cuts that were passed in 2012 to avoid situations like this, where we are again short-circuiting investments that we made a commitment to many years ago. So, certainly, this is a choice. There were alternatives.”

Had that $200 million been invested, Cotsoradis said, it would have grown to at least $365 million by now. Had the money been used for high-quality children’s programs, she said, it would have brought an estimated return of almost $1.5 billion.

“On the low end, when we invest in little kids we’re talking about $4 for every dollar we put in. On the higher end, it looks more like $9,” she said. “So we actually used the most conservative estimate to determine the $1.46 billion.”

As it now stands, Cotsoradis said the KEY Fund will be down to $140,000 by the start of fiscal year 2017, about a year from now.

“There was a vision in the beginning that these programs would be supported in perpetuity by this endowment,” she said. “By ‘sweeping’ these funds year after year, we’ve really compromised what was an important long-term vision for our state: really investing in young children so we could have a strong workforce.”

Cotsoradis said Kansas also faces an imminent reduction in the revenues it receives from the tobacco master settlement fund.

“It is just around the corner,” she said. “This is the last budget cycle where we will have two portions to that payment. That means we are facing a reduction of about 24 percent, beginning in 2018.

“We will not have enough resources in the Children’s Initiatives Fund to sustain early childhood programs at level funding, and most of those programs have been at level funding for six or more years. So, even sustaining at the current level will be impossible with the KEY Fund being empty.”

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.

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