Perhaps Kansas can coast for a while on its laurels of having the best roads in the nation. They sure feel good.
Up until last year the state has had two 10-year plans to maintain and upgrade its 10,000 miles of highways. The popular magazine Reader’s Digest ranked Kansas roads tops for their safety and condition, for having sturdy bridges and lack of overall congestion.
Kansas may rank low as a tourist destination, but we get our share of drive-throughs. So it’s important that their experience of covering the state is pleasant. Missouri has long been ma-ligned because of the atrocious state of I-70 once the border is crossed. And our neighbor to the south, Oklahoma, was in the bottom five of the magazine’s picks.
Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson estimates the state can go two, maybe three years before significant damage to roads and bridges again be-comes evident.
Republican governors Mike Hayden and Bill Graves pushed the transportation initiatives during their terms. During Hayden’s tenure in the early 1990s the comprehensive roadwork project was likened to a job recovery act because it was so massive in scope and gave employment to so many during that recession.
Gov. Parkinson has suggested funding come from the 1 cent sales tax increase he proposed in January. After the three-year tax increase rights the boat for immediate needs, it can continue at two-tenths of a percent to fund a multi-year transportation package.
And pigs will fly.
THE ANTI-TAX mood is so strong in Kansas its legislators don’t have the stomach to adequately fund education and so-cial services, much less muster the vision for projects down the road.
Despite its proactive history, transportation projects today are being funded at 1989 levels. It’s estimated about $250 million from the transportation fund has been di-verted for other obligations.
In Allen County two main projects — the bridge spanning Coon Creek on North Jefferson and a bridge for Monarch Cement — have survived widespread cuts. Together, the two projects will cost more than $1 million, of which one-fourth will be local responsibility.
Neighboring counties did not fare so well. Bourbon, Crawford, Neosho and Woodson all have seen March lettings for bids cut. That means fewer jobs, less action in those communities and more delay for time-sensitive projects.
KANSAS CAN quickly lose its stellar reputation for highways if we keep on this no-funding path to nowhere.
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