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In Kansas, stimulus means change to rural highway

In Kansas, stimulus means change to rural highway

This article first appeared in the Journal Record

May 4, 2009

TOPEKA, Kan. – For all the hoopla accompanying the federal stimulus package, its actual effects can seem small, such as the improvements planned on a 16-mile stretch of two-lane highway in rural northwestern Kansas.

But Kansas Department of Transportation officials say their plan for adding narrower-than-usual shoulders on a stretch of K-23 without using a more expensive process to rebuild the roadway could determine if the state can use that cheaper method on other lesser traveled highways.

With nearly 10,000 miles of state highways to maintain, the department is always looking for ways to save money, but particularly in tough economic times.

“I don’t see how we can serve the whole state if we don’t find ways to stretch our dollars more,” Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said.

The stimulus package, approved by Congress in February, provides $378 million to Kansas for state and local transportation projects. By July 1, Kansas needs to have made a decision on how to spend at least half the money for state highways and bridges.

“We wanted to look for projects that would create good solid jobs and sustain good existing construction jobs that would be under way this summer,” Miller said.

The department estimates the stimulus projects will create 10,000 to 12,000 construction jobs over the next two to three years.

One reason the section of K-23 from Gove south to the Lane County line was selected, Miller said, was because the stimulus bill requires some money to be spent in rural areas with populations under 5,000. Also, that stretch of K-23 has no shoulders; nearly 150 heavy trucks use it each day; and the number is expected to double by 2030.         

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