The Kansas Department of Transportation pledged $5 million in the current fiscal year to assist cities and counties with repairs to the 3,800 bridges across the state in poor condition or structurally insufficient to meet modern weight and vehicle requirements.
KDOT moved to reinstate the popular program suspended in 2014 when the state government struggled with revenue shortfalls that undermined the agency's ability to sustain road maintenance and improvement schedules and led to demise of the bridge program.
An estimated 20 percent of the 19,000 county and city bridges in Kansas warrant repair or replacement.
"It will be good for agriculture, good for safety, will put construction workers to work and boost the Kansas economy while building and rehabilitating bridges that will benefit Kansas for decades into the future," said Justin Mader, Saline County engineer and president of the Kansas County Highway Association.
Julie Lorenz, the KDOT secretary appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly after leading the Kansas Legislature's transportation task force, said return of state aid for bridges was among the top recommendations to that 2018 study group.
"I’m very happy that we’re able to bring it back," she said. "Reinstating the Kansas Local Bridge Improvement Program ... is a great way for us to work together with cities and counties to address needed improvements."
Potential of the program could be illustrated by comparing before-and-after photographs of a rural bridge in Trego County that was addressed prior to suspension of the program in 2014.
Under the previous KDOT version of the program, 110 bridges were replaced or closed during the two years it was in operation.
Under the new initiative, the department pledged to provide up to $150,000 toward replacement or rehabilitation of a bridge on a local roadway system. The agency also offered $50,000 to a city or county in exchange for permanently closing a functionally obsolete bridge eligible for the program.
To qualify for a KDOT grant, bridges must be rated as deficient, have a daily vehicle count of less than 100 and be 20 feet to 50 feet in length. Local jurisdictions participating in the bridge projects would be obligated to provide a 10 percent match.
Funding for the program was drawn from $216 million in sales tax funneled to the state highway fund in fiscal year 2020, which began July 1. The fund is dedicated to completing postponed T-Works projects, invest in highway preservation, improve road safety and support city and county projects.
The announcement was made Wednesday at an event in Butler County in conjunction with officials with the Kansas Association of Counties, Kansas County Highway Association and Kansas Contractors Association.
"Kansas’ local road system is critical for getting people and goods where they need to go,” said Kelly, the Democratic governor. "I’m pleased to see state and local government working together and combining resources to replace aging infrastructure."
KDOT planned to accept grant applications through mid-September and intend to select projects in early October.