Governor boosts projects with transportation plan
Topeka — Two controversial projects that would have a big impact in northeast Kansas got a boost Tuesday with the signing of the new transportation plan by Gov. Mark Parkinson.
The $8.2 billion, 10-year plan includes $35 million to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to help build a new rail and distribution center in Edgerton, located in southern Johnson County.
And it includes $1.7 billion for major highway projects, which could include the proposed South Lawrence Trafficway.
On the rail center, Parkinson said after discussing the project with BNSF officials during the past year, he believed the funding was necessary to get the delayed project moving.
“I became convinced that if we didn’t find some way to provide some additional assistance, the intermodal would not have been built,” he said.
Parkinson said the question became whether the upfront $35 million cost was worth the benefit of the economic development.
“I’m convinced that it is,” he said, adding that he is confident the project would move forward. Developers say the project will produce 8,700 permanent jobs.
The plan allows the state to make a $35 million grant available to BNSF. Under another bill, the $35 million would be paid back through sales taxes on utilities paid by businesses in the center.
Rep. Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City, whose legislative district abuts where the intermodal will be built, said the project will be a big economic boost to the area.
“We’re anxious to get going on that,” Brown said.
The project has faced stiff opposition from some nearby residents who say it will harm the environment.
The South Lawrence Trafficway doesn’t get direct help under the highway plan, but could receive funding if it survives legal challenges, Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said.
She said the trafficway “would fall into that category” of projects that could receive funding through the $1.7 billion for expansion.
The estimated $148 million Lawrence project has been mired in controversy for years and is being challenged in federal court by a coalition of organizations and individuals concerned that the planned route through the Baker Wetlands would be environmentally damaging and would harm nearby Haskell Indian Nations University.
Overall, officials say the new transportation plan will create thousands of jobs, preserve Kansas’ highly ranked highway system and promote economic development. Most of the money will be spent on highways and bridge maintenance and repairs.
“This is one of the most important jobs bills that has passed in the history of this state,” Parkinson said.
The legislation authorizes taking on $1.7 billion in new debt. In 2013, the Kansas Department of Transportation will start getting revenue from the sales tax, and registration fees for heavy trucks will increase $100.