Brownback Asks Trump To Save Some Kansas Highway Projects

Jan 26, 2017

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is hoping the federal government can rescue several critical infrastructure projects that the state can no longer afford.

The Brownback administration recently sent what amounts to a wish list to President Donald Trump for inclusion in his planned infrastructure initiative. It includes the following $240 million in highway and bridge projects delayed or abandoned because of the state’s ongoing budget problems:

  • $50 million to replace a section of the Lewis and Clark Viaduct that carries Interstate 70 across the Kansas River between Kansas and Missouri.
  • $91 million to build an I-235 interchange in Wichita.
  • $45 million to reconstruct nine miles of I-70 in Gove County.
  • $54 million to reconstruct 10 miles of I-70 in Thomas County.

The list — which Melika Willoughby, Brownback’s communications director, says the Trump administration requested — also includes the second phase of the John Redmond Reservoir dredging project and some streambank stabilization projects.

Several media outlets recently reported that the National Governors Association was helping to compile a list of “priority projects” for an infrastructure package of about $150 billion. According to those reports, the Trump administration will prioritize projects based on their potential to create jobs, improve public safety or enhance national security.

Willoughby says the I-235 project “will bolster the aviation manufacturing industry in Wichita.” And, she says, replacing the aging Lewis and Clark Viaduct is necessary to restore a “crucial corridor” in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The Trump team also wants projects that are shovel ready, or close to it.

The Kansas road and bridge projects are. They were on this year’s construction schedule until cash-flow problems forced the Kansas Department of Transportation to delay them along with dozens of others.

Bob Totten, executive vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association, says while he welcomes any effort to bring additional federal construction dollars to the state, what Brownback is requesting wouldn’t make up for “all the money he’s taken from the highway program over the last six years.”

Brownback and lawmakers, Totten says, have swept $2.7 billion from KDOT, crippling the agency’s ability to complete T-Works, a 10-year, $8 billion transportation program approved in 2010.

Brownback is proposing to take another $600 million from the agency over the next two budget years to help cover a projected shortfall of nearly $1 billion.

Jim McLean is managing director of KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas

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