Archive for Tuesday, September 25, 2007

U.S. 59 Highway funding is in peril

September 25, 2007

By Scott Rothschild

TOPEKA -- A federal funding shortfall could jeopardize reconstruction of U.S. Highway 59 from Lawrence to Ottawa, officials said today.

State and federal officials sounded the alarm about a projected $4.3 billion shortfall in the federal highway fund, which if not addressed, could result in a cut of $130 million to $150 million to Kansas for road projects.

If the cuts occurred, "without question it is going to delay some projects or eliminate some projects," Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said.

Miller said no decisions have been made on what would be cut, but she included a list of projects that would be let during the budget cycle that starts in October 2008, saying those would be up for consideration.

That list included $110 million for widening and other improvements to U.S. 59 in Douglas and Franklin counties.

The list also included $4.5 million for research and development of advanced vehicle technology concepts at Kansas University, and $400,000 for a bike and pedestrian path along K-10 between Douglas and Johnson counties.

The funding problem is attributed to a slump in sales tax revenue from heavy truck sales which feeds into the highway fund, according to Peter J. "Jack" Basso, director of management and business development for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Basso said an increase in the motor vehicle fuels tax to bridge the shortfall is politically impossible.

But the Senate Finance Committee has approved a stopgap measure to shore up the highway fund. That includes increasing enforcement of fuel tax evasion, dipping into the federal general fund and getting credit for monies spent on emergency relief operations.

But Basso said President Bush opposes the measure, saying that highway officials should consider more toll roads and public-private partnerships as alternative ways to finance projects.

Basso urged state officials to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to work on the problem.

"It's going to take some real grassroots effort," he said.

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