KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt sat down with KSHB 41 News before joining Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids for groundbreaking ceremonial in Overland Park Thursday.
Bhatt’s agency is within the US Department of Transportation.
The Federal Highway Administration helps state and local governments design, build and maintain highways.
Bhatt spoke about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and major transportation projects underway in the region, including the groundbreaking 69 Express he attended on Thursday.
69 ExpressThe Kansas Department of Transportation is expanding US 69 Highway from 103rd to 151st Streets in Overland Park.
A new lane in each direction will be part of a fast toll lane system.
“There are a few things I love about this project,” Bhatt said.
First, Bhatt appreciates the safety component of the project, citing that the corridor has a 53% higher accident rate than the rest of Kansas.
Bhatt believes in giving drivers the choice of whether to enter the toll lane or use the free lanes.
Finally, Bhatt told KSHB 41 that the project will support economic growth in the area.
“A huge amount of the local economy is tied to businesses located in this area, which means there are workers who will be down this road,” Bhatt said. “There is an intermodal piece of cargo. You hear a lot about supply chains in this country.”
Bipartisan Infrastructure ActBhatt’s agency will oversee about $350 billion in federal funds through the 2022 bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Kansas will receive $1.8 billion over the next five years for bridges and highways. Missouri will receive about $7.1 billion.
“Transportation, infrastructure investment — these are things Americans really care about,” Bhatt said. “It’s this ribbon of networks that truly unites us as a nation.”
Bhatt believes a good amount of money will go to repair bridges in Missouri and Kansas, which each have about 1,000 bridges in bad shape.
He pointed out how the law invests in electric vehicles, which pairs perfectly with the Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant now under construction in DeSoto, Kansas.
“A generation from now, people will be saying thank goodness we made those investments,” Bhatt said.
Buck O’Neil BridgeOne of Bhatt’s favorite parts of the Buck O’Neil Bridge replacement project is that it takes into account cyclists and pedestrians, unlike the current bridge.
“Just like your house, or your driveway, or your windows, or your car, it doesn’t last forever,” Bhatt said. “Taking a bridge that’s 70 years old, we’re going to build a new structure, but we’re also going to add bicycle and pedestrian facilities, so it’s not just about vehicles.”
The new bridge is expected to open in October 2024.
I-70 expanded into MissouriMissouri Governor Mike Parson announced in January an $860 million proposal to widen Interstate 70 to three lanes in areas around Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia. Parson’s proposal does not rely on federal funding.
“First, people in Kansas and Missouri know best what they need transportation-wise,” Bhatt said.
The Federal Highway Administration’s role in a project without federal funding is to ensure that local leaders follow federal guidelines for project design and construction.
RAISE Grant to study 71 Highway in Kansas CityIn August, Kansas City, Missouri, was awarded a $5 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant.
The grant will allow the city to study US 71 Highway from 75th to 55th Streets.
Leaders want to make the road safer for pedestrians and motorists crossing the highway in this very urban and residential area.
Bhatt supports the review of how previous transportation projects may have negatively impacted communities. He says there are better and safer ways to build infrastructure today.
“What we want to understand is how our transportation decisions affect people,” Bhatt said. “These benefits cannot come on the shoulders of others. That’s all we’re saying now is let’s think about this holistically.