Oklahoma bill would redirect diverted road and bridge funds

| 3/29/2006

The Oklahoma House voted 80-17 to approve a bill that is intended to help bring the state’s roads and bridges up to speed. It has been sent to the Senate for further consideration.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, the measure would dedicate money collected for vehicle tags and taxes to be used for construction and maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.

The state’s Department of Transportation says more than 3,000 miles of Oklahoma’s more than 12,000 miles of highway need to be repaired or replaced. In addition, about 1,160 of the state’s more than 6,700 bridges are either deficient or obsolete.

The bill would reroute $221 million that is funneled into the state’s general fund to help fix roads and bridges throughout the state.

“Many Oklahomans are under the impression that the money collected for their vehicle tag is already going toward fixing roads, but only 0.31 percent of the money collected is currently put toward road construction and repair,” Hickman said in a written statement. “Money generated from car tags should go to fix the very roads those vehicles will be traveling – and this bill does just that.”

Hickman’s bill also would send the portion of the fuel tax collections on gasoline and diesel now sent to the general fund to roads. That would amount to an additional $7 million for ODOT.

The bill – HB1863 – is in the Senate Finance Committee.

Hickman’s effort isn’t the only legislation in Oklahoma this year that addresses money for bridges in the state.

Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill March 14 to help fix the worst bridges on state highways and county roads throughout the state.

The new law, previously SB1288, allocates $125 million for bridges.

“With these emergency funds, we can attack the backlog of bridge repair projects that has plagued Oklahoma for decades,” Henry said in a written statement. “Motorists in all four corners of the state will see improvements to make their bridges and overpasses safer.”

ODOT will get $100 million to repair or replace the most dilapidated bridges on the state highway system. Counties will get $25 million to fix their worst bridges.

The House has approved a separate plan – HB2940 – that would double the investment for transportation projects during the next four years. The new money would come on top of an extra $111.8 million allocated for road and bridge repair during the 2005 legislative session.

“This plan doubles the investment in roads without raising taxes,” House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, said in a written statement.

The bill’s next stop is the Senate.