Over the past six years, the Legislature, along with Gov. Mary Fallin and former Gov. Brad Henry, have rightfully positioned transportation as a core priority. Oklahomans should be thankful.
Recently the Oklahoma Policy Institute questioned the investment that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has received in recent years. Yes, transportation has received marked appropriation increases since 2005.
However, for decades prior to 2005, the diversion of highway user taxes to other areas of state government resulted in a 40-plus percent reduction in funding and an appalling deferred maintenance bill exceeding $12 billion. The result was an irate public and hundreds of highways and bridges falling into disrepair, creating both public safety and economic development challenges.
The increased investment in transportation is working, not only on the state level, but on the county level as well. ODOT’s eight-year statewide construction plan is building new highways and reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges. The number of structurally deficient state bridges has been reduced by nearly half since 2004. The remaining deficient bridges are scheduled to be addressed by the end of the decade thanks to legislative action this past session. Construction can now also accelerate on the county system thanks to the Legislature’s increased support of the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) fund.
In addition, nearly 1,500 recycled beams from the Interstate-40 crosstown are being delivered to counties statewide for use in repairing more than 300 structurally deficient county bridges. Not to be left out, the Creek and Kilpatrick turnpikes are being widened to handle ever-increasing traffic counts. All of these projects are being funded without tax or toll increases.
The TRUST organization stands for “Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation.” Since its founding in 2005, our members have advocated for exactly that. At no time in our brief history has TRUST been more serious about ensuring that 100 percent of transportation-generated revenues — such as gas and diesel taxes and license tag fees — be used for transportation-only purposes. With a self-funding state transportation system, more revenues are available for other core areas such as education, health and human services, and public safety.
To be a modern, successful, wealthy, job-creating state, we must safely and efficiently move product to market while providing our residents and visitors with safe roadways and bridges. Legislators have been outstanding partners on this goal, and Gov. Fallin has made highway and bridge investment one of her top priorities. For too long, Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure was a non-priority and, unfortunately, we’re still paying a very high price.
Is the renewed interest and investment over the past few years worth it? I leave it to the driving public, not uninformed observers, to decide.
McCaleb is president of TRUST, an advocacy group dedicated to restoring Oklahoma’s transportation infrastructure.
Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.