A new program to fund and support technology-focused projects aiming to boost safety and mobility has been introduced by the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Announced in late August, the Innovative Technology Program will give financial assistance to those working to improve mobility, public safety, and transportation technology, and participating projects can involve any method of transportation. These include, but aren’t limited to, road networks, rail, transit and bicycle facilities, alternative fuels, and unmanned aircraft systems.
Around $3 million for each fiscal year will be made available to recipients, which can include non-governmental applicants. The application window was open between mid-August and mid-September.
“As a leader in UAS, it’s important that we implement new technologies safely,” said Julie Lorenz, Transportation Secretary. “This program will help both rural and urban areas of the state improve the transportation system.”
Throughout Kansas City, officials have been working diligently to implement drone operations, and the Mid-America Regional Council, which includes representatives for all nine counties within the Kansas City metropolitan area, released its outline for these tech explorations, named the Regional Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategic Framework, in September of 2018. In this plan, officials detail the necessary steps to form strong partnerships with other agencies, to develop a drone usage manual, and to collect data on public concerns regarding drone operation.
Projects will not receive more than $1 million per cycle, and local government officials will administer the Innovative Technology Program projects. Each project must meet a minimum 25% non-state cash match, and applicants that can commit more than the minimum amount will receive boosted consideration.
Eligible projects can also receive further consideration if they have been supporting local business retention and economic growth. Geographic fund distribution will also be taken into consideration by KDOT, and projects receiving awards are set to be announced by the end of October.
Last fall, interested parties were able to discuss transportation priorities during Local Consult meetings, which were held in multiple regions throughout the state. These public meetings created opportunities for people to bring to light the transportation topics they felt would best shape Kansas’ 10-year transportation program plan.
“Citizens at Local Consult meetings across the state last year stressed the need for technology opportunities to better position Kansas for the future,” said Lorenz.
KDOT’s Eisenhower Transportation Legacy Program, known as ‘IKE,’ was created in March of 2020 and is a 10-year program that aims to modernize and expand highway projects on a rolling basis every other year. These efforts work to solve the biggest issues and largest fluctuating revenue difficulties regarding Kansas state transportation.
During these local meetings, more than 2,000 participants collaborated in the overall construction of the IKE program, and established vital aspects of the program that would include broadband investments, new technology investments, and an overarching commitment to multimodal transportation efforts. Preliminary engineering work on 40 different highway projects, under the IKE program, were announced in May by Lorenz and Governor Laura Kelly.
Kelly has pushed forward $216 million in sales tax revenue to the state highway fund in fiscal 2020, which has allowed KDOT to progress a variety of programs working to support infrastructure projects.
The Innovative Technology Program follows a series of technology-focused funding efforts within the state, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s April 2020 announcement of $750,000 in funding for Kansas local and state governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals to further increase innovation technologies. These Conservation Innovation Grants aimed to further develop innovative technology and tools meant to address natural resource concerns throughout private Kansas working lands. These funds aim to help farmers, ranchers, and other private forest landowners bring new conservation methods to their properties through the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches.
Additionally, between 2019 and 2020, Kansas City partnered with City Innovate to sponsor the Startup in Residence Program, which works to connect Kansas City departments with innovative technology startups. The city established a 16-week voluntary period to develop tech-based solutions addressing city government challenges, and created the STIR Program to connect public-sector agencies directly with tech entrepreneurs in order to boost technology product development and implementation in regards to specific public sector needs.