Funding to repair roads, bridges questioned

Monday, April 7th 2008, 7:53 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

State transportation officials said they'll have to delay critical road and bridge projects if lawmakers don't change the way transportation projects are funded. 

Transportation officials claim lawmakers rely on an arbitrary trigger for funding and want the law, which was passed two years ago, amended. The current law requires when state revenues are projected to grow at least 3 percent, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation gets an additional $50 million in funding.

At a news conference Monday, transportation officials said the law has backfired for the past two years. 

Members of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission held a rare news conference Monday to announce that unless the law is changed, they're going to have to cancel, or at least delay, road and bridge projects across the state.

"The trigger is dependent, obviously, upon our economy. And yet, our transportation system is a critical issue to a good economy," said Guy Berry with the Oklahoma Transportation Commission. "Not spending the needed money is penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Business leaders at the same conference said the law is a Catch-22 -- you can't grow the economy if you don't fund road improvements.

"If you're positively growing the economy, you're paying for the infrastructure, which grows the economy, which pays for the infrastructure," said Richard Rush, president and CEO of the state Chamber of Commerce.

There is support for removing the trigger at the Capitol, but lawmakers said in a tight budget year, it may not be easy.

"I think that the fight will be on, and I plan on helping to lead that fight along with a lot of other folks as well," said Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Oklahoma City.

Sen. Kenneth Corn said lawmakers can't continue to cut taxes and erode the revenue base and still have the funding necessary to fix the state's roads and bridges.

"If people say we can do that, they're being disingenuous to the voters of the state and we need to just be honest and use some political courage in this building to fund the priorities that the people of Oklahoma told us they want funded," said Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau.

Officials said a good indication of how badly lawmakers have neglected ODOT is that ODOT's current budget is just 12 percent higher now than it was in 1985.