Transportation department faces budget cuts

Cars travel on I-70 off McDowell Creek Road on Feb. 22, 2015. The interstate stretches from Baltimore, Maryland to Cove Fort, Utah and is often referred to as the backbone of Kansas. (Evert Nelson | Collegian)

With the 2016-2017 fiscal year budget in the works, budget cuts in certain departments have been a concern. The Department of Transportation is one of the departments facing proposed budget cuts.

According to the Kansas Division of the budget, KDOT was allotted a $7.8 million decrease in funding for fiscal year 2015, although the amount is subject to legislation changes.

Currently, no projects have been cancelled, but two Manhattan projects have been delayed due to budget cuts. Projects that have already been announced in advance before the proposed cuts are not supposed to be affected.

“A lot of people view (the budget cut) as a short-sighted thing,” Theo Stavropoulos, special project coordinator for communications, said.

According to the Kansas Constitution, the state is not allowed to run a deficit. Due to decreased revenue from Brownback’s tax cuts, budget cuts in departments such as KDOT may be necessary in order to avoid a deficit.

In addition to KDOT’s cuts, $95 million from the State Highway fund is to be transferred to the general fund.

“If Gov. Brownback elects to pull funds from the T-WORKS Program to fill in short falls then more projects and programs will be in danger of delays and/or cancelations,” Robert Ott, director of public works of Manhattan, said in an email.

According to Ott, there are two projects in Manhattan, the Interchange of K-18 and K-113 and the Corridor Study of K-18 and US-24, that have been delayed until fiscal year 2017. These projects and others are in danger of being canceled if budget cuts continue to happen.

As of now, though, federal funding from the Surface Transportation Program and Special Street and Highway Fund are anticipated to be received on schedule. These funds total $2 million and generally fund maintenance projects as well as the traffic signal system and intersection and roadway improvements.

Despite concerns of how a reduced budget will affect transportation, KDOT announced in a press release that projects that were scheduled at the beginning of the T-WORKS program will continue as scheduled. The T-WORKS program is a 10-year transportation project that includes preservation and expansion projects.

Steve Schwartz, chief of public affairs of KDOT, said that the difference between preservation and expansion is that preservation is more in regards to maintenance. Expansions are projects such as adding lanes and interchanges.

“We are confident that even with the reduced budget, we will meet (our) performance measure goals,” Schwartz said.

According to Schwartz, KDOT’s performance measures are the conditions Kansas roads are in. Currently, 98 percent of interstate pavements meet performance measure standards, while 89 percent of non-interstate pavements meet performance measures.

KDOT’s goal for the fiscal year 2016, according to Schwartz, is to keep 85 percent of interstate pavements meeting performance measures and 80 percent of non-interstate pavements meeting performance measures. Because of the current percentages, Schwartz said he does not believe the proposed budget cuts will be a problem for KDOT.

“Every year, we know we have to make transfers to other departments,” Schwartz said.

KDOT and the highway fund receive funds from the motor fields tax, portions of sales tax revenue, vehicle registration fees and directly from the government. According to Schwartz, KDOT often makes transfers from the highway fund to other departments because of budget cuts across the board. If the proposed budget cuts are passed, Schwartz said that the department should have no problems dealing with the reduced funds because that is normal for KDOT.

Brownback and his office were unavailable for comment at the time of submission.