Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fixing Oklahoma Roads

Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill designed to correct what I believe to be one of the Oklahoma Legislature's most egregious ongoing policy mistakes. Each year, Oklahoma citizens spend millions of dollars in motor vehicles taxes such as car registration. I believe this money should be used to pave roads and build bridges. However, each year about 447 million of these dollars are diverted for non-transportation related items.

House Bill 3342, authored by Representative Mike Thompson, would direct about 227 million of this money back to the funding of roads where it belongs. Thompson is the Chairman of the Transportation Committee of which I am a member, and I have enjoyed working with him on advancing the issue of properly funding Oklahoma's roads and bridges.

HB 3342 proposes to direct the motor vehicle money to transportation in six separate increments over the next few years.

Some of the concern over the bill appears to come from representatives of the Oklahoma Education Association. The OEA is worried that redirecting these funds would reduce the amount of money that is currently being channeled into education from the state's general fund. This concern is despite the fact that even under Thompson's proposal, approximately 218 million dollars that goes to schools in motor vehicle fee money would not be affected.

Another area of concern has been raised by county officials who are worried that Thompson's proposal as it stands does not go far enough in addressing county road issues. HB 3342 is mostly focused on funding state maintained highways, interstates and the bridges that are on those highways.

As the author of a bill that encourages these motor vehicle fees to be used for high trafficked county roads, I certainly believe that a percent of this money should go to county roads. However, I believe that this new money should be carefully targeted to the most needy county roads through a fund administered by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

It is a sad fact that due to past neglect, many county line roads remain unpaved. For example: in Logan County, only 16% of county roads are hard surfaced. Of the 229 county maintained bridges, 125 are structurally deficient and 8 are functionally obsolete. Only 30% of county roads in the entire state of Oklahoma are hard surface.

I believe it is important that we pay for the upgrade of these county roads through a fund that is professionally administered and targeted to the most needy roads. It is inexcusable that in the 21st century, 70% of Oklahoma county roads remain unpaved.

I am confident that due to the leadership of Rep. Thompson and the commitment of Oklahoma Representatives to Oklahoma's roads and bridges, we will see significant reform this year.

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