Commentary: We need long-term road solutions

click to enlarge Bobby Stem (Courtesy)
Bobby Stem

The federal government is driving us to a highway fiscal cliff, and, per usual, the road is paved with short-term intentions. Failure to find a permanent solution to replenish the Federal Highway Trust Fund threatens Oklahoma’s future investment in infrastructure, road safety and economic development. In addition, delayed federal funding will have a significant negative impact on Oklahomans’ mobility and pocketbook.

Federal dollars account for 55 percent of Oklahoma’s Eight-Year Construction Plan. This plan touches all 77 counties in Oklahoma and utilizes state and federal dollars to be put into the repair, improvement and development of public infrastructure. This long-term investment will protect our daily commutes to work, improve weekend trips to Oklahoma lakes and parks and provide a prosperous future for our state.

However, should federal funding slow or stop before 2021, the state’s ability to award contracts for needed road improvements and expansion projects will come to a rapid stop. Delays will cost time and progress to our state’s top road projects, such as the widening of Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City and repairs to Tulsa’s Interstate 244. Oklahoma drivers who depend on our roadways and bridges for personal and commercial mobility will also encounter delays from increased road volume, deteriorating road conditions and damage to their vehicles from the inability to fund needed road repairs.

The Association of Oklahoma General Contractors’ consistent efforts to upgrade the quality of the Oklahoma transportation system through the years has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of state-maintained deficient bridges, the reconstruction of thousands of miles of roadways and the completion of safety improvements that have significantly helped our economy. However, to achieve Oklahomans’ goals for a modern and safe transportation system, we must continue to make further improvements through the next decade as Oklahoma’s transportation system is critical to the state’s economy and growth.

Additionally, Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature have made the necessary efforts to find funding to ensure the continued safety, quality and expansion of our roads and bridges. Their resourcefulness has created a culture of increased competition among contractors, resulting in competitive pricing for state projects and continued growth in our state’s infrastructure.

The federal government needs to make the same commitment our state has in terms of solving the depleted Highway Trust Fund. Our Oklahoma delegation has been leading this issue for several years; however, we need to have more federal officials with his long-term thinking and insight. Proposals to increase taxes on consumers of gasoline are short-term stopgaps and fail to address the realities of the modern driver. Thanks to the adoption of green technology and alternative fuels, people today are driving shorter distances and traveling on less gas. It might also surprise some that alternative fuel cars are heavier than their traditional fuel counterparts. Added weight contributes to road wear and undermines highway pavement sustainability over time.

All of us should hope and advocate that any measures taken should be initiatives that move us further away from relying on short-term solutions. Surely the right fix is one that brings us closer to creating an educated and informed permanent solution that meets the needs of every Oklahoma driver.

Bobby Stem is executive director of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors.