FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Democratic Leader Scott Inman
Capitol: (405) 557-7370
GOP-Controlled Legislature is Poised to Reroute Road/Bridge Funding to Plug Gap in State Budget
OKLAHOMA CITY – Many critical bridge and highway improvement projects in Oklahoma are at risk of being delayed if majority-party leaders in the Legislature raid state and county transportation funds, as they have indicated they intend to do, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman warned Monday.
Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature “have eroded our revenue sources so badly that core functions of government are being pitted against each other,” the Del City Democrat said. “The people of Oklahoma shouldn’t have to choose between good roads and bridges and good schools. We Democrats believe the Legislature should be able to adequately fund both.”
The majority party “has managed to put this state’s financial status in a precarious position,” Inman said. Because of the GOP’s “single-minded obsession with tax cuts,” the Legislature was confronted with a $188 million budget hole last year and now faces a budget deficit of $611 million.
To plug this massive hole, the Republicans intend to mount a wholesale raid on state savings accounts, “just like they did last year when they siphoned – in at least two instances, unconstitutionally — $291 million from 29 agency revolving funds and savings accounts,” Inman said.
That means two critical transportation funds are at risk, Inman emphasized.
One is the $352 million Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund established in 2005 to upgrade Oklahoma’s long-neglected state highways and bridges. Another $59.7 million is scheduled to be allocated to the ROADS fund this year.
Oklahoma has 372 bridges on its state and federal highway system that are structurally deficient, according to 2014 data compiled by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT).
One example is the Belle Isle Bridge on I-44 in Oklahoma City. A contractor discovered “much worse deterioration than expected” on nearly half of the bridge’s 95 support piers, ODOT disclosed Monday. The extensive damage prompted transportation officials to close lanes and ramps on the bridge April 16; ODOT indicated the ramps will remain closed for the remainder of this year. The bridge, which was constructed in 1978, is traveled by 100,000 vehicles on an average day.
Similarly, the S.H. 83 bridge over the Kansas City Southern Railroad southeast of Poteau was closed on March 27 after ODOT workers discovered deterioration underneath the 78-year-old structure while filling a pothole. Emergency repairs costing $265,000 necessitated closure of the bridge for a month while corroded beams were replaced and a new section of deck was constructed. The bridge, which carries an average of 2,300 vehicles daily, was reopened to traffic on April 29.
ODOT has replaced or renovated 945 highway bridges since 2006, “but it will take many years to catch up with the backlog of needed improvements,” agency officials reported. The department’s Eight-Year Plan includes 935 bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects, which would address all of the remaining structurally deficient highway bridges.
In addition, nearly one-third of the state’s highway miles – 3,867 of the 12,264 total highway miles – are deemed to be substandard and in need of rehabilitation or replacement. Fully 87% of those substandard highways are two-lane routes, records reflect.
ODOT has identified an estimated $6.26 billion critically needed transportation improvement projects on state and federal highways in Oklahoma and the interstate highway system that are scheduled to be performed in its FY 2015-22 eight-year Construction Work Plan (CWP).
More than 3,100 miles of Oklahoma highways are in need of rehabilitation or replacement but are not currently included in the CWP, the Transportation Department confirmed.
Also in the GOP crosshairs is the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Fund, which county commissioners depend on to finance expensive transportation projects. [http://www.okladot.state.ok.us/cirb/pdfs/cirb_fy2014-2018_workplan.pdf] Among those are four expensive projects in northwestern Oklahoma and several in Oklahoma County. (See “County Commissioners Depend on CIRB to Finance Big-Ticket Road/Bridge Projects”)
Preliminary indications are that the Republicans intend to siphon as much as $100 million of the $254 million cash balance in the CIRB fund in order to balance the state budget, Inman said.
“If they do, numerous county road and bridge improvement projects will have to be put off for years,” he said, “because counties are required to have cash-in-hand before starting a project through the CIRB program. On larger projects, it often takes several years to accumulate the necessary funds.”
According to the state Transportation Department, Oklahoma has 3,236 substandard county bridges.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has saddled public school students with an excessive number of tests, denied teachers a pay raise for the last seven years, and diverted $33 million annually from textbook replacement to payment of routine operational expenses for five consecutive years. “Just imagine how much damage they will cause to our bridges, roads and highways if they start siphoning off that money, too,” Inman said.
The Republican Legislature and the Republican governor “need to delay the pending state income-tax reduction and impose across-the-board cuts in all of those expensive tax credits, instead of diverting transportation funds and cutting education again,” Inman asserted.
“And I urge all Oklahomans to contact Republican legislators and advise them to vote against any raid on the CIRB. Leave that fund intact. It’s that important.”
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile