The Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce is diligently working to advocate for a business-friendly environment with our local, state and federal elected officials. Particularly with the 2019 Kansas Legislative Session in full-swing, the Chamber’s Government Relations (GR) team has been busy these past few months promoting our legislative agenda on issues like workforce, taxation and economic development.
Another focus area for GR this year is transportation infrastructure. Our GR team has already had multiple opportunities to promote the interests of the Wichita region on transportation infrastructure and highway funding issues.
- Transportation funding is one of three common priorities emphasized in a joint letter that the Wichita Chamber, alongside the City of Wichita, Sedgwick County, the Greater Wichita Partnership, and Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), signed at the beginning of session. The letter was distributed to our South Central Legislative Delegation with language encouraging them to work together to benefit our region. Read the letter here.
- Transportation is a top-three focus area in the list of policy priorities that the Coalition of Local Chambers produced and distributed to all legislators this session. Twenty local chambers, stretching from Overland Park to Liberal, recognize the importance of a quality, well-maintained highway system and urge the Legislature to ensure that dedicated transportation funding streams are used only for the transportation program.
- The Chamber and REAP co-sponsored a South Central Legislative Delegation lunch in February. Brett Letkowski from TranSystems, Chair of the Chamber’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, presented to South Central Kansas legislators about the transportation needs of the region.
- The Chamber invited the new Secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), Julie Lorenz, to a meeting with business leaders in Wichita. Michael White, Executive Director of the Kansas Contractors Association, also joined Sec. Lorenz to provide his perspective on behalf of the highway construction industry. The meeting discussion focused on the prospects for a new highway funding plan, Secretary Lorenz’s plans for KDOT, regional transportation issues, and the North Junction project (interchange of I-135, I-235, K-254 and K-96). The North Junction, a bottleneck of congestion and deadly accidents, is the top regional need identified by the South Central Kansas Transportation Coalition. Brett Letkowski, who also chairs the Coalition, facilitated the conversation with Secretary Lorenz.
- The Wichita Chamber also hosted Senate Ways & Means Chairperson Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick) for a conversation on transportation issues with members of the S.C. Kansas Transportation Coalition and the Transportation Subcommittee. Senator McGinn served as Co-Chair of the Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force in 2018 and provided a unique perspective on highway funding legislation bills have been introduced based on the final report of the Task Force.
- In response to Sen. McGinn’s presentation, the Chamber’s Government Relations Committee held a special meeting and voted to support several user-fee oriented funding mechanisms to finance a future state transportation program. The Chamber’s Legislative Consultant, Jason Watkins, has been staying very busy testifying to committees at the Statehouse on transportation legislation over the past several weeks.
The Chamber’s business members recognize the need for transportation funding that adequately supports our region’s infrastructure needs. Critical projects require buildout to help protect drivers and pave the way for new economic growth in the area. We must ensure that South Central Kansas receives an equitable distribution of state transportation dollars as the Legislature debates a comprehensive state transportation funding strategy.
While it remains to be seen what will happen with transportation legislation this session, rest assured that the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce is working to pave the way for infrastructure funding that helps grow our economy in South Central Kansas.
Vice President of Government Relations
Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce
P.S. I hope you’ll pardon the tire-d title of this blog—I choose to venture where others fear to tread.