State bridges, roads could lose funding

Wednesday, August 27th 2008, 12:32 am
By: News 9

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY - State officials said the poor condition of Oklahoma roads is getting better, but the money needed to make necessary repairs could disappear.

The Interstate 40 Crosstown bridge in such bad condition, the state is building a brand new one to replace it. It is just one of many bridges in similar need of repairs.

The state has put $1 billion toward fixing those problems, but now that future of that money is in doubt.

For the first time in three years, the prospect of a safe commute is within reach, thanks to the state legislature.

"In the last three years, there's been a 50 percent increase in funding for ODOT. That's the commitment that the legislators have made," said Bob Stem, an Assn. General Contractor.

Under a new law, the state will give ODOT $30 million out of the general revenue fund over an eight year period, strictly for use in road and bridge repairs.

A state bond issue kicks in an additional $300 million over two years.

"It's over a billion dollars over the next six-eight years. The commitment is definitely there. It just takes some time to get it there," Stem said.

But now that money is in danger of going away and heading to the classroom. The state education association wants to move $850 million out of the general revenue fund over a three year period.

Supporters are hoping to collect about 200,000 signatures for a ballot initiative.

"If that happens, you can bet roads and bridges are going to suffer from that, so that's a real concern," said Stem.

The federal government isn't expected to make up that shortfall. Congresswoman Mary Fallon sits on the transportation and infrastructure committee.

"The federal highway trust fund, which receives tax revenue off of gasoline has been depleted because people are travelling less, so now we have an issue of not having enough money on the federal level," said Rep. Fallin.

Stem said that means the only other option would be to raise taxes.

Over the past two years, ODOT has repaired or replaced more than 242 bridges, which cost about $700 million.