This Christmas season, with Kansas receiving a $ 2.6 billion Christmas gift from the national government for infrastructure spending, I would like elected heads of state, city planners, and transportation engineers to spend slightly differently on federal road money in 2022.
How different? As an example, let me focus on my homeland, Wichita.
Wichita, the largest self-contained city in Kansas, offers many urban amenities. But when you measure these amenities by the city and state money spent on them, Kellogg is likely hundreds of millions of dollars ahead of its competitors. Municipal accounting is insanely complicated (often on purpose), but some estimates suggest that the city of Wichita has spent well over $ 1 billion over the decades expanding and improving Kellogg.
This money was not wasted. It ridiculed driving in Wichita. A recent study concluded that the US has the lowest traffic congestion of any major city in the US Builders trying to expand the city’s suburban presence even further, with all the ramifications that such sprawl brings – was the goal, then this investment was a great success.
Maybe Wichita should declare victory and put its infrastructure money elsewhere? Public transportation, eco-friendly transportation alternatives, repainting of zebra crossings and traffic lines on the 5,000-mile-long road from Wichita? Some of this could happen! But nearly a third of Washington, DC’s infrastructure money is already earmarked for the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, a 10-year plan to repair and, yes, further expand Kansas’ highways, with Kellogg himself $ 166 million (Johnson and Wyandotte highways, by comparison, have $ 360 million in circulation).
The Biden Administration’s huge (and overall badly needed) Infrastructure Bill would likely never have been passed had it not been peppered with hundreds of specific pledges to various lawmakers and stakeholders whose demands, no matter how popular they might be, could have some socially disruptive, fiscally unacceptable or environmentally harmful results if you look closely at the details of the policy.
Kansas’ distributed pattern of development always required an extensive system of roads, bridges, and highways; That won’t change, and the fact that the Kansas Department of Transportation finally has the resources to complete many long-delayed projects is cause for celebration. Bad government funding has slowed bridge repairs and safety improvements for too long. Still, every new mile of road built means many more decades of maintenance costs, and every additional lane built means many more motorists are choosing to use it rather than calling for other modes of transport.
Numerous studies have shown that the health of people in Kansas or its cities when people can drive anywhere, anytime, anywhere, regardless of their immediate economic benefits, is not exactly ideal. As those making decisions about highway projects look forward to using this powerful Christmas present, I hope they keep this in mind.
Dr. Russell Arben Fox teaches politics in Wichita, KS