KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As Interstate 70 exits Kansas and enters Missouri, a tight right-angle curve is a site of many accidents over the years, Leo Eilts has witnessed.
Eilts, a resident of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, bought a building 16 years ago with a fantastic view overlooking the point where the Kansas and Missouri river meet. He quickly found his building offered a less pleasant view of accidents along that harrowing curve and fixed his security cameras on the point.
“I have a front row seat to a massive demolition derby just down from my building,” Eilts said.
Most of the time, the accidents would be minor, with a few fender benders or cars running into guardrails. But one incident stuck with Eilts: A cyclist coming onto the curb misjudged the turn, falling over the rail to their death.
While Eilts found a Kansas Department of Transportation plan to address dangerous aspects of the turn, he could not get an answer on why it was not being addressed.
“I made a lot of phone calls to Topeka. I wrote letters and put stamps on them. I sent emails and got no reply to everybody,” Eilts said. “Finally, one day I had a lady on the phone, and she said don’t you know there’s no money in KDOT?”
Dating as far back as 2001, Kansas raided billions from the transportation coffers to help other parts of the state budget. Under former Gov. Sam Brownback, withdrawals from KDOT ballooned, with more than $2 billion taken for other purposes.
Payments have slowed in state budgets under Gov. Laura Kelly. In the most recent budget, the state would close the so-called “bank of KDOT” during the next fiscal year by not diverting any funds to general government uses.
Political leaders, local union leaders and residents like Eilts spoke Tuesday of their hopes this will allow the state to finally address issues like the dangerous curve in Kansas City.
“We’ve got those monies now, so we’re able to invest in the infrastructure and things we need to make the state better,” said Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City. “We finally have the monies now to restart those projects that got suspended.”
Mike Kane, speaking for Laborers Local Union 1290, said the restart of these many projects would mean a lot for Kansas laborers as well, using U.S. Highway 169 as an example.
“I think it’s approximately 290,000 labor hours,” Kane said.
“If you don’t fix your bridge when it deteriorates, materials cost twice as much,” he added, and people won’t be able to get to work.
Efforts to close the transportation bank are not new. Sen. Richard Hildebrand, a Baxter Springs Republican, introduced a constitutional amendment to prevent the Legislature from swiping highway funds for other uses.
The failed proposal would have required money raised for transportation projects using the state sales tax to be used on those projects.
“It always bothered me to read in the paper and see where the state was sweeping funds out of the Bank of KDOT,” Hildebrand said in 2020, as reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal.
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