Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Properly Funding Roads

During the past two months, the House Transportation Committee has been holding an interim study regarding road issues. This study is occurring at a time when attention across the nation is focused on road and bridge issues following the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota.

During the study,the chairman of the House General Government & Transportation Committee declared his intent to author legislation that would ensure that funding for state roads and bridges is increased by at least $50 million each year.

Legislation approved in 2006 provides for yearly increases of up to $50 million per year for Oklahoma roads until $200 million in new funding is achieved. However, the law contained a "trigger" that limited the annual increase to just $17.5 million if total state collections grew less than 3 percent in a year. This year, early revenue estimates indicated growth was below the 3-percent target and only $17.5 million in new money was approved for road-and-bridge maintenance. However, revised estimates later revealed that state collections grew more than 3 percent but the new funding for roads and bridges was still limited to $17.5 million. This revenue stream is the funding source for the Department of Transportation's 8 year plan. If this bill is not approved and there are future shortages in the growth of state revenue, then funding is endangered for projects listed in the 8 year plan.

On the local level, this is funding that is to be used for such projects as replacement of the Seward Road bridge over I-35 and construction of a new Guthrie viaduct over Cottonwood Creek. In order to see first hand the importance of replacing bad bridges, I would encourage those who are interested to drive beneath the Guthrie viaduct and view the deteriorating underside of the bridge.

In addition to needs faced by the state highway system, I have sought to bring attention to problems faced by county roads, with a particular emphasis on those in counties with growing populations. All around the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas, rural counties are exploding in population growth. The aging road infrastructure in these counties has to keep up with the massive amount of traffic generated from new growth. For instance, on Waterloo Road along the Logan and Oklahoma County border, traffic counts indicate thousands of cars enter and exit from Logan County.

Earlier this year, Senator Patrick Anderson and I implemented a strategy of introducing both House and Senate versions of nearly identical legislation that would provide funding for these counties by directing money from motor vehicle tax funds away from the general revenue fund and into a special High Use County Road Fund. Despite the fact that 2006 legislation has begun the process of placing motor vehicle tax funds in the County Bridge and Road Improvement fund, over 50% of the money that we pay for motor vehicle taxes is still diverted for non-road related purposes.

In our efforts to rectify this, Logan County Commissioner Mark Sharpton has been a strong ally. As Chairman of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG), he is able to speak out on county road funding issues with credibility. Senator Anderson, who represents part of Logan County, has also been a foremost advocate of properly financing county roads. Anderson's bill in the Senate provides a second legislative vehicle in case the house version is unsuccessful.

As always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated at 557-7350 or online at www.HouseDistrict31.com.

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