State budget priorities are a never-ending discussion in Oklahoma. Advocates exist for every current spending item. That is why I find it extremely important every year to bring everyone’s attention back to the infrastructure needs in Oklahoma.
For 20 years, from 1985 until 2005, the only source of annual state funding directed to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation originated from fuel tax proceeds. This funding stream stayed virtually flat during that period at around $200 million annually. Meanwhile, the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges continued to increase and needs went unmet.
Beginning in 2006, with the creation of the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund, state funding levels for highways have incrementally risen to more than $608 million annually. In the decade since 2006, the state has sustained transportation infrastructure investment as a priority and invested more than $4 billion to begin to address the backlog of critical highway system and bridge needs. This investment includes both the proceeds from the fuel tax revenue combined with resources provided by the ROADS fund.
In a more than $7 billion budget, transportation only has a small slice of the pie. Education funding, for example, comprises nearly half of the state budget and rightly so. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has a comparable slice of the pie to ODOT, but receives so much federal funding, that it is much larger in comparison. All these pressures combine to make it hard to continue to fund our roads and bridges properly unless we continuously make the case for the public safety and economic benefits of an up-to-date infrastructure.
Safety problems abound when you allow your infrastructure to become outdated. Inadequate shoulders and roads that don’t to support volume increases lead to accidents. In 2013, Canadian County had a whopping 12 fatality crashes. A large number of fatality crashes indicates that there is a safety problem. Kingfisher County had three, Blaine County had four, Dewey County had three and Woodward County had six. In terms of individual towns, Woodward, Yukon and Watonga all had one of those fatality crashes.
This month, the state Transportation Commission approved a $15 million contract for a stretch of roadway where several deadly accidents have occurred. The project will improve the interchange at U.S. 277 and U.S. 62 north of Lawton and Fort Sill in Comanche County. One of the commissioners mentioned the cause of one of those deadly accidents as being poor sight lines. There have been hundreds of accidents around the interchange in the past 15 years, including two fatality accidents and more than 100 resulting in injuries.
In the district, there have been numerous wrecks and deaths on State Highway 51 and 51A over the years. We are making this crossroads four-way stop with blinking lights to alert drivers of this intersection. This should take place by the end of this year or right after the new year.
As we continue to update roads and bridges in the district, the research shows we will improve the safety of the district. It will also have an effect on commerce. Businesses look for convenience and efficiency when they relocate or work with current businesses in the district. The better our infrastructure, the more opportunities we have for economic success.
Lastly, I would like to commend Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley, Director Mike Patterson and all the wonderful employees at ODOT for their day to day work on making Oklahomans safer. I think we are in a good place today, but as things improve, we must remember how far we have come in our infrastructure and continue to make the same smart choices as we have over this past decade.