By Brad Cooper
Kansas drivers could be among the first to feel the pinch from efforts to patch a massive hole in the Kansas budget.
The Kansas Department of Transportation plans to delay about $300 million in unspecified maintenance projects to account for Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to move millions out of the agency to help balance the budget.
Agency leaders plan to delay about $51 million in preservation work during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. An additional $246 million would be delayed in fiscal 2016.
Highway officials said it's hard to predict how the delay would affect road conditions, pointing out that weather can have a major influence on how highways would hold up.
"We believe this one-year blip will not have a significant effect on road conditions," said Jerry Younger, deputy secretary for the Transportation Department.
The delay alarmed construction contractors who have a stake in the state's highway plan.
"All you're going to do is create bigger problems for yourself later," said Ed DeSoignie, executive director of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City.
Money for the projects comes from the state's 10-year, $8 billion transportation plan, funded with the help of a sales tax increase passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2010.
Highway officials hope to push the maintenance work to later years in the transportation plan, which runs through 2020.
Even amid budget cutting, the department promised to complete the plan's 37 highway expansion projects, including the interchange at Kansas 10, Interstate 435 and Interstate 35 in Johnson County plus a rebuilt interchange at Interstate 235 and Kellogg Street in Wichita.
Overall, the governor is proposing to move $350 million out of the Transportation Department from 2015 to 2017 to help offset the state's budget deficit. It's not the first time money has been moved from the department to help supplement the state's operations. About $1.2 billion was transferred out of the department the last five years, state figures show.
Transportation Secretary Mike King painted a generally bright picture of the Kansas highway system for lawmakers on Tuesday. About 96 percent of the interstate pavement and 83 percent of other highways are rated in good condition. Eighty-six percent of bridges are in good condition.
However, some lawmakers warned that the quality of the state's roads could be at risk if highway upkeep is delayed.
"How can you keep that many roads in good condition when you're taking projects off the board?" asked Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.
Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican and chair of the tax committee, dismissed dire predictions for the state's roads because maintenance work is delayed.
"I don't think we're talking about Missouri," said Kleeb, referring to the financial crisis facing that state's highway system. "We're talking about Kansas quality roads that can wait another year or two without any problems whatsoever. I am not anticipating there is a huge problem."
(c)2015 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)