T-WORKS has done wonders for Kansas but more transportation funding still needed

T-WORKS ConstructionThroughout the recent months Kansas has made progress in improving the conditions of its road and bridge conditions, largely through increased transportation funding provided by the T-WORKS program, which was authorized by the state legislature in 2010. With that said, the state still faces several challenges in addressing traffic safety, state and local road and bridge conditions, and further modernizing the state’s transportation system to support economic growth.

According to the new TRIP report, Modernizing Kansas’ Transportation System: Progress and Challenges in Providing Safe, Efficient and Well-Maintained Roads, Highways and Bridges,” the T-WORKS program has allowed for the completion of over 1,000 transportation projects, the improvement of nearly 8,000 miles of roads, and the repair or replacement of nearly 600 bridges. However, future improvements to the state’s transportation program are jeopardized by the uncertainty over the highway trust fund which is scheduled to run out of money in May 2015.

The new report indicates that 29 percent of Kansas’ major locally and state-maintained urban roads and highways have pavements in poor condition, while an additional 46 percent of the state’s major roads are rated in mediocre or fair condition and the remaining 25 percent are rated in good condition. Road conditions across the state have been improved largely through funding provided by the T-WORKS program, which allocates approximately $7.8 billion to highway preservation, modernization and expansion projects throughout Kansas over a 10-year period. Funding provided by the T-WORKS program allowed Kansas to improve 7,714 miles of state-maintained roadway since 2010. Through the second half of the 10-year program, the state plans to make improvements to an additional 5,000 miles of roadways.

The TRIP report also found that 17 percent of locally and state-maintained bridges show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards, and 10 percent of Kansas’ bridges are considered structurally deficient, meaning there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components.

The Kansas Department of Transportation in 2014 set aside $10 million to reduce the number of deficient locally-maintained bridges. The additional funding will allow improvements to 77 locally-maintained bridges which is good news considering seven percent of the state’s bridges are considered functionally obsolete.

Funding provided by the T-WORKS program has allowed the state to repair or replace 559 bridges since 2010.

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“KDOT has done an outstanding job delivering the first half of our 10-year T-WORKS transportation program. Specifically in the Kansas City metro area, troubling bottlenecks are being removed, safety enhancements are being made, and economic development is increasing due in great part to T-WORKS. There is much left to do over the next five years to saves lives, create jobs, and expand our economy,” says Rick Worrel, owner of Affinis Corp, president of ACEC Kansas, and long-time champion of transportation and quality of life efforts at the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. “Passing a long-term federal transportation program, maintaining the state’s 4/10-cent transportation sales tax, and fully funding T-WORKS will ensure Kansas is a safe place to move people, goods, and services and remain a catalyst for economic growth.”

Kansas’ traffic fatality rate is significantly higher than the national average, and the fatality rate on the state’s rural roads is approximately three times higher than on all other roads in the state, according to the TRIP report. Between 2008 and 2012, 1,993 people were killed in traffic crashes in Kansas, an average of 399 fatalities per year. Kansas’ overall traffic fatality rate of 1.32 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel in 2012 is significantly higher than the national average of 1.13. The traffic fatality rate on Kansas’ non-Interstate rural roads in 2012 was approximately three times higher than on all other roads and highways in the state – 2.26 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel compared to 0.74. It is estimated that roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of all fatal and serious traffic crashes. Improving safety features on the state’s roads and highways would likely result in a decrease in traffic fatalities and serious crashes.

As much as the T-WORKS program has helped to improve transportation infrastructure throughout Kansas, many projects will need federal funding in order to proceed. These projects include the reconstruction of mainline US-69 in Kansas City, the completion of the Gateway Project to modernize Kansas’ portion of the highway network in the Kansas City area, the reconstruction and modernization of a portion of I-70 in Topeka, the construction of a bypass around the northwest portion of Wichita connecting US-54 to I-235/K-96, the reconstruction of the I-135/I-235/K-254/K-96 interchange in Wichita, and the construction of highway bypasses around Pratt, Kingman and Pittsburg.

“In recent years, the Kansas legislature has provided funding that was instrumental in improving the state’s surface transportation system,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “In order for the state to continue its progress in maintaining and modernizing this system, adequate funding must be made available at the local, state and federal levels of government. The quality of life of the state’s residents and the health of Kansas’ economy are riding on it.”