Progress report on road funding

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

As chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Transportation, I want to provide you with a progress report on the repair and maintenance of Oklahoma roads and bridges.

Before 2005, funding for the repair and maintenance of state highways and bridges was based almost entirely on motor fuel taxes. The tax provided $200 million annually while the cost of maintaining and repairing roadways continued to climb. Nothing was done about this funding shortfall for decades until the state of our roads got to the point that there was a citizen outcry.

The leadership of the Oklahoma House of Representatives started us on a new path in 2005 with House Bill 1078, which was enacted and created the Rebuilding Access and Driver Safety Fund with a portion of income tax revenue to help address the neglected highways and bridges. In 2006, state lawmakers created the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Program, which provided state funding for county projects. Oklahomans felt like the timeline for bridge and road repair should be sped up and lawmakers acted according, voting for increases to the two funds in 2012.

The current Oklahoma Department of Transportation 2013-2020 plan includes $5.6 billion in infrastructure improvements, including 951 bridge projects. The state agency has crossed 78 bridges off its total structurally deficient state highway bridge list in the past year. Following the latest round of inspections in 2012, the current number of deficient bridges stands at 556, down from 634 identified in the 2011 report. The agency is responsible for 6,800 bridges, of which only 8 percent are deficient, compared to 17 percent in 2004. The current plan has us on track to repair or replace the remaining deficient bridges by 2020.

One of the worst bridges was the I-40 Crosstown Bridge, which has now been relocated. More than 2,000 bridge beams from the old Crosstown bridge were made available for county bridge projects and to this date, 361 beams have been requested, 19 have been used and 10 are currently being used, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma.

Cities, towns and counties continue to maintain approximately 16,000 local bridges in Oklahoma. The number of structurally deficient “off-system” bridges has also decreased, down from 4,636 in 2011 to 3,552 in 2012. Additional state allocations to the 2013-2017 County Improvements for Roads and Bridges Program will generate an estimated $45 million to fund county road projects incorporating the beams. The five-year program will also provide $900 million in state and federal funding for a total of 700 county road and bridge projects in all 77 counties.

I personally have been pushing for more county road funding because I am very aware of the damage our roads have weathered from natural disasters and the vital importance they hold to rural communities. I would like to tell you more of what we are working on for next session, in my next column.

As always, I would love to hear from you. During the upcoming legislative interim I will be traveling the district, but will regularly check the calls I receive at the Capitol office at (405) 557-7407.

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