Pittsburg, KS– Kansas Attorney General and Republican Nominee for Governor Derek Schmidt today announced his intention to prioritize as governor a four-lane highway connecting Southeast Kansas, Wichita, and Southwest Kansas in the state’s transportation system in order to bring meaningful and sustainable growth to Kansas.
Schmidt earlier this month told a Pittsburg audience that if elected governor, he will provide the leadership to make the project – which has been discussed for decades – an economic development and transportation priority for the state. He expanded on his proposal today.
“President Eisenhower was visionary in launching the interstate highway system less than 70 years ago,” Schmidt said. “In my view, the construction of Interstate 70 across northern Kansas continues to provide perhaps the biggest economic return on capital investment of taxpayer dollars in Kansas history. Southern Kansas needs and deserves that same opportunity because in the 21st century, four-lane access is essential for economic growth, particularly in manufacturing and agriculture, which are staples of the region. The expansion of four-lane access connecting Southwest Kansas, Wichita, and Southeast Kansas with the interstate highway system in the east – including completion of the U.S. 69 project – is generations overdue. This will be a priority for me as governor.”
Schmidt noted that the combination of the Legislature enacting in 2020 the new Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Plan and the federal enactment last year of the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make available large amounts of funding for transportation in the coming years. Therefore, now is the time to prioritize a transformative statewide transportation project like a southern Kansas four-lane highway.
He noted that major portions of the project already are planned, budgeted, underway or have been completed. For example, the Kellogg freeway project through Wichita has been completed after decades of work, and that project now is slated for extension east to Andover. Similarly, US-400 is four lanes going west out of Wichita to Kingman, and other segments of US-400 and US-54 have been or are being upgraded to four lanes in Southwest Kansas. In Southeast Kansas, the state already owns the four-lane right-of-way along US-400 from Wichita to at least Parsons, and planning is underway to complete the US 69 four-lane connection to Interstate 44.
What’s missing is the leadership that puts these pieces together, fills the gaps, and commits to getting the overall project done.
“This is a situation where the whole will be far more beneficial to Kansas than the sum of the parts,” Schmidt said, noting that truck traffic in the corridor is increasing because of major investments in Southwest Kansas such as the new Hilmar Cheese plant in Dodge City, in Southeast Kansas such as the Bartlett Grain soybean crushing facility near Cherryvale and other projects under consideration at the Great Plains Industrial Park in Parsons, and in distribution facilities all along the corridor. “It’s time to be bold in this corridor so we can get the maximum economic benefit from the power of a four-lane highway in attracting new investment and career opportunities in southern Kansas and expanding existing operations. The entire state will benefit for generations to come from bold leadership that brings people together to make this a priority and get it done.”
Stakeholders offer support for Schmidt’s plan
“Expanding and enhancing roads like U.S. 400 is an economic win for rural and urban parts of our state,” U.S. Congressman Ron Estes (R-KS-4) said. “As someone who grew up on a Kansas farm and now lives in the state’s largest city, I can say with certainty that having better connectivity along this critical corridor will provide benefits well beyond just a smooth drive between communities. Derek’s vision and leadership are so critical for Kansas right now after four years of a governor who shut down our businesses and schools – this infrastructure plan will bring needed economic development to the Sunflower State and make traveling across our beautiful countryside an even greater, safer experience.”
“Eastern Kansas is in desperate need of real infrastructure reform and investment,” U.S. Congressman Jake LaTurner (R-KS-2) said. “Derek Schmidt’s plan will focus on improving roads, bridges, and other crucial infrastructure projects across our state. This project will expand highways, improve safety on our roads, and boost our local economies. I am proud to support Derek Schmidt’s infrastructure plan and look forward to helping implement it when he is governor.”
“When you drive across Kansas, you’ll encounter miles of amber waves of grain between our major cities,” U.S. Congressman Tracey Mann (R-KS-1) said. “You’ll see the fulfillment of George Washington’s hope that America would be the breadbasket of the world. Due to our state’s geography, we need a safe, effective, and tailored infrastructure system to connect people and communities that encompass the farms, ranches, and feedlots across our state. I believe that Derek Schmidt’s infrastructure plan will be great for Kansas – it will boost economic growth, it will promote safety and reliability, and it will focus on improving actual infrastructure projects and making a real, measurable impact on our state. Kansas needs investment in our infrastructure, and I’m looking forward to supporting Derek’s efforts to do just that.”
“Derek Schmidt with this plan provides the type of bold, visionary leadership Kansas needs to grow and thrive,” Steve Sloan, President of Midwest Minerals in Pittsburg, said. “Connecting a completed US-69 Highway with four lane access across the Southeastern region of our state would be transformative for Pittsburg and the entire Southeastern Kansas region.”
“Four-lane highway access through Parsons would open up immense opportunities for economic development,” Jim Zaleski, Parsons Economic Development Director, said. “Highway access is consistently ranked among the top criteria job creators look for when deciding where to invest, which is why growing Highway 400 to four lanes has been a major priority for Parsons for a long time. Derek’s plan would be a game changer for our community and for Kansas.”
“Our rural South Central Kansas communities are well-poised for growth,” Jack Thimesch, Kingman County Commissioner, said. “In addition to our strong agricultural base, the low cost of living and high quality of life make us attractive to families and businesses looking to grow. Derek’s plan to complete the four-lane connection to Wichita and other communities across southern Kansas will make our communities even more attractive to investment and help mitigate the negative rural population trends of recent years.”
“We are proud of the major economic investments that have come to Dodge City in recent years, including the Hilmar Cheese plant,” Gary Harshberger, Chairman of the Dodge City Community College Board of Trustees, said. “Completion of a modern, four-lane highway will enable us to capitalize on the momentum and continue to grow Southwest Kansas. Derek Schmidt understands the importance of this project, and under his leadership in the governor’s office, Kansas can make it happen.”
“Garden City and the surrounding region have tremendous opportunities available for expansion and greater economic growth,” Jeff Whitham, Chairman of Western State Bank in Garden City, said. “Under Derek Schmidt’s leadership, the expansion of Highway 400 will lead to further investment in our communities, allow local businesses to expand, and provide southwest Kansans a safer, more efficient connection to the rest of the state.”
“The expansion of US Highways 54 & 400 to four lanes is long overdue, but has not been a priority of the current governor,” Representative Shannon Francis (R-Liberal), Chairman of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, said. “Derek has the knowledge, experience, and tenacity we need to get such a major project on a path to success. I look forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to achieve this win for Kansas.”
Schmidt: constitutional amendment needed for long-term stability in transportation funding
Schmidt said a key to making major projects like a southern Kansas four-lane highway a reality is long-term stability for state transportation funding. As governor, he will propose to the Legislature a state constitutional amendment to protect transportation funding from being diverted to other priorities.
“Decades ago, Kansas voters decided to separate money for long-term investment in transportation projects from annual state operating needs by constitutionally committing the state motor fuels tax solely to transportation,” Schmidt said. “That policy is sensible but it needs to be reinforced to permanently prevent all sources of transportation money from being diverted to other purposes.”
In 2010, the Legislature and Governor Mark Parkinson significantly increased the amount of state sales tax money committed to transportation, and that decision put annual transportation funding in direct and ongoing competition with other state priorities such as education and social services. During recent administrations of both Democratic and Republican governors, that resulted in money that had been pledged to highways being diverted to other purposes.
“Funding instability was a problem created with bipartisan support, and I hope it can be solved with bipartisan support as well,” Schmidt said. “The ‘Bank of KDOT’ needs to be permanently closed.”
A copy of the proposed constitutional amendment to protect stable transportation funding is available online here.