By Rep. Mike Sanders
Since I chair the budget subcommittee that oversees transportation funding, I have closely watched federal funding for transportation. I am pleased to report that federal legislation has been approved by both Congressional chambers. The legislation will provide nearly $3.4 billion in highway funding and more than $240 million in mass transit funding.
Praise goes to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who was a lead negotiator on the legislation. He has worked hard to pull his colleagues away from the practice of short-term funding streams that have contributed to the deterioration of transportation infrastructure throughout our country. The federal gasoline tax has simply not kept up with the cost inflation of construction and repair needs.
Currently, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation receives about $460 million annually from the federal government. That comes from a larger figure, with the remainder going to counties, municipalities and other entities. The new federal legislation will increase that larger figure to an estimated $643 million this year, but it is not clear what amount will go to ODOT. Even so, any increase will be welcome and will coincide nicely with Oklahoma legislative efforts to increase state funding for transportation to record levels. It’s also worth mentioning that the long term funding stream will make it easier to plan ahead.
Transportation infrastructure was neglected for decades by both state and federal lawmakers. 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. 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.
Safety problems abound when you allow your infrastructure to become outdated.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 each had one of those fatality crashes.
I cannot stress enough my commitment to road and bridge funding. Oklahoma will be good stewards of the federal funding coming into further boost infrastructure and the safety of our citizens.
As always, I can be reached at (405) 557-7407.