The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 19, 2012

Kansans are driving less, using efficient cars

WICHITA, Kan. — The Kansas Department of Transportation is studying the long-term impact of a decrease in revenue from motor fuel taxes caused by state residents who are driving less and using more fuel-efficient vehicles.

While Kansans drove slightly more miles in 2011 than 2010, the trend for several years has been the opposite direction, according to figures from the transportation department reported Tuesday in The Wichita Eagle.

“It’s an issue that all states are aware of as well as motor fuel taxes are going down,” said Sally Lunsford, spokeswoman for the transportation department. “And of course, they are the primary mechanism for funding our state highway system, so it’s a concern.”

Kansans drove 82,250,374 miles every day last year, compared with 81,916,438 in 2010 and 83,137,912 in 2006.

Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, said that motor fuel taxes “have been flat for a number of years, and the expectation is they will remain so as fuel costs continue to rise and motor vehicles become more fuel-efficient.”

Leif Holliday, a traffic and field operations engineer for KDOT, said traffic statewide dropped in 2007 to levels seen five to eight years earlier.

“Traffic has grown just a little bit every year, usually 1 to 3 percent annually,” he said. “At that point, it plummeted.”

Sedgwick County traffic engineer Mark Borst said Kansans are being more thoughtful about how often they drive.

“People are not making discretionary trips as much,” Borst said. “The necessary trips — the grocery store, school, work — I think that’s all what it was. It’s the discretionary trips. It’s just like the dollar. The discretionary dollar is not there as much.”

One area where traffic has increased slightly is on the Kansas Turnpike, where traffic counts increased 1 to 2 percent, said Michael Johnston, Turnpike Authority president and CEO.

“In recent times, we’ve had some years when we had declines,” he said. “2008 declined from 2007, for example. Our traffic has recovered substantially from the pre-recession level with the exception of commercial traffic. We’ve only seen about half of that come back.”

He said passenger traffic this year is expected to be “slightly better” than last year and he attributed that to the opening of a state-owned casino near Mulvane.

“The casino adds about 2 to 3 percent additional traffic on a daily average basis, so it is significant,” he said.

A bill passed by the Kansas Legislature during the last session is a response to the trend in declining motor fuel taxes, Lunsford said.

The law directs the transportation department to study the long-term feasibility of relying on the motor fuel tax as the primary means for funding the state’s highway maintenance and construction program.

The department is to report its finding and recommendations to the governor and Legislature by Jan. 1, 2014.


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