Kansas’ new transportation improvements will create tens of thousands of jobs and “almost limitless” economic opportunities, Gov. Mark Parkinson said Tuesday, just before signing the $8.2 billion program into law.


Kansas’ new transportation improvements will create tens of thousands of jobs and “almost limitless” economic opportunities, Gov. Mark Parkinson said Tuesday, just before signing the $8.2 billion program into law.
Projects in the 10-year plan — highways, bridges, airports, rail and public transit — will be financed with revenue from bonds, a sales tax increase and higher registration fees for heavy trucks. The state can start spending the money July 1.
Parkinson signed the bill at a table set up on a flatbed trailer at a municipal airport in north Topeka.
About 30 construction workers stood around him, most in orange or yellow vests and some wearing hard hats.
The state Department of Transportation forecasts that the program will create or save 175,000 jobs over its lifetime. Secretary Deb Miller predicted thousands of new jobs will be created this year as her agency issues the first new bonds to finance projects.
“This is one of the most important jobs bills that’s passed in the history of this state,” Parkinson told about 100 onlookers.
The new program will follow transportation programs enacted in 1989 and 1999.
State officials believe they were the reason Reader’s Digest recently ranked Kansas’ 10,000-mile highway system as the nation’s best.
Most of the money will be spent on highway and bridge maintenance and repairs, though funds will be set aside for airport, rail and public transit projects.
About $1.7 billion will be used for high-profile projects such as new interchanges or bypasses designed to boost economic development.
“We will literally employ tens of thousands of Kansans as we work our way out of this very difficult economic time, and then, once the projects are complete, the opportunities are almost limitless,” Parkinson said.
Some legislators opposed the bill because the state hasn’t paid off all of the bonds it issued for the 1989 and 1999 programs.
The bill authorizes up to $1.7 billion in new debt.
Lawmakers approved a separate bill increasing the state’s 5.3 percent sales tax to 6.3 percent on July 1, and some of the new revenues will go to transportation. Registration fees for heavy trucks will increase $100 in 2013.
Derrick Sontag, state director of the small-government group Americans for Prosperity, doubted the highway program will bring general prosperity.
He said the tax increases necessary to finance it will hurt many businesses.
He said other states have seen stronger economic growth over the past 20 years even without highways as highly rated as Kansas’ system.
“I think the average person would agree that tax increases destroy jobs,” Sontag said. “By increasing the tax burden, we’re hampering the ability of employers to go out and hire workers.”
But Miller announced last week she had revived 84 maintenance projects stalled because of budget problems.
And Mary Turkington, the co-chairwoman of a pro-transportation group, Economic Lifelines, who was involved in pushing all three programs, said: “It means a lot of jobs for a lot of Kansans.”