Kansas lawmakers have shifted hundreds of millions of dollars out of the State Highway Fund to help balance the budget in recent years. While this will likely cause some road maintenance projects to be delayed, other upgrades are still moving forward. One of those projects affects homeowners in northeast Kansas who are convinced the transportation department is now cutting corners because of the state's tight budget. KPR's Stephen Koranda traveled to their home near Alta Vista to learn more.
Ashley Iverson is standing in the yard of her white farmhouse built in 1901. It sits on the edge of highway 177. She’s with her husband Steve and a family dog. They moved here last year after graduating from Washburn University.
“After school, we found some good jobs and we thought let’s try our best to find somewhere with what we can afford, it’s not much, but it’s perfect for us and kind of what we worked hard for,” says Ashley.
Ashley and Steve knew there’d be some kind of road improvement when they bought the house. But when the first plans came in, they showed the line for the state’s right-of-way going through their house. Steve Iverson says they were devastated.
“Then we talked to some home movers and we have some family members that moved old farm houses and so we felt really encouraged that would give us an opportunity to move the house,” says Steve.
So they thought they’d have some options. Then, the state’s plan changed. Now, the state’s right-of-way for the highway will stop only about 8 feet in front of the house, instead of going through their home.
“They came back and said ‘congratulations, we’re saving your house. We’re just going to take everything around it, though,’” says Steve.
Now, the Iversons say they can’t plant trees or even put up a fence between their home and the highway. They believe the state is trying to save money on the project at their expense. By avoiding their home, the state won't have to pay to have their house moved.
“Really, we’re looking at trying not to buy things that we don’t need,” says Jonathan Marburger, with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
He says after final inspections they found the right-of-way did not need to go through the Iverson’s house. He says they have to be careful when spending taxpayer dollars and they also need to treat each landowner the same way.
“People have different opinions as to whether they want to have their structure taken out or whether they want to keep it. So really, you have to look at it from a perspective of what does the highway need?” says Marburger.
The Iversons say some previous KDOT estimates for the job show the project is now on a shoe string budget. Marburger says those larger numbers included rebuilding parts of the highway that they don’t need to rebuild. He says the state taking money from the highway fund hasn’t impacted this job.
“This project was developed as a $25 million budget when T-Works was fully funded, and it’s still the same budget and same scope as it was when it started out,” says Marburger.
He says there’s a process where homeowners get to make their case to KDOT on how the changes will affect their property value.
“At this point the right-of-way process hasn’t had a chance to play out. People are getting ahead of the game here. They haven't given KDOT a chance to be fair in that right-of-way negotiation process at this point,” says Marburger.
Back in Alta Vista, Steve Iverson says he understands KDOT needs to be careful with taxpayer money.
“But I can’t see any taxpayer that would look at this and say ‘this is OK. Let’s do this to the Iversons,'” says Steve.
In the coming weeks, the Iversons will have a chance to make their case about how the project affects their property value.
But they’re left wondering, if the state was in a better budget situation would the highway project be playing out differently?