As Kansas grapples with the economic wreckage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, one recovery option that might be overlooked is underneath us all — literally.
We’re talking, of course, about the state’s roads.
Kansans love our highways and take particular pride in navigating our spread-out geography through a robustly maintained transportation network. Or at least we did, until the persistent budget problems of the Brownback years took money from “The Bank of KDOT” and maintenance faltered.
That’s why it was so heartening to see the official unveiling of the Eisenhower Transportation Legacy Program last week, a fundamental and overdue rethinking of how the state handles road infrastructure. In short, rather than create decade-long wishlists that could only be fulfilled if several truckloads full of gold bullion were delivered to the Statehouse steps, the Department of Transportation is taking it two years at a time.
There are 40 projects in the pipeline now, and while the department hasn’t committed to funding them all, preparatory work can begin.
“A modern transportation system moves people, freight and technology and these 40 projects will allow us to do all those things better in every region of the state,” said KDOT secretary Julie Lorenz. “We’ve selected smaller projects, which can advance to construction quickly, and larger projects that will employ many people in all phases of development or construction.”
This is exactly the kind of approach that our state needs right now. With so many of our fellow Kansans out of work, investments in roads allow us to put construction crews to work right now, and also prepare our state for economic growth in the future.
Infrastructure isn’t the most glamorous word, to be sure. It brings to mind images of power plants, telephone wires, sewage treatment and the like. But these basic services support our quality of life and are a solid source of employment.
There have been repeated promises of a national infrastructure program, an effort built around the federal government’s ability to borrow and spend unlimited sums. (Given low interest rates and current needs, that would seem to be a no-brainer, but that’s not our subject today.)
Kansas can only do what it can afford, and the Eisenhower program is a great start.
As Gov. Laura Kelly put it, “a robust development pipeline will help jump start our economic recovery by creating jobs and allowing the state to take advantage of potential federal stimulus dollars.”