Former lawmaker: Oklahoma Legislature should leave road/bridge funds alone

BY MARK LIOTTA

It was nothing short of a miracle.

Breaking with decades of traditional political pie-carving, the 2005-06 Legislature voluntarily removed itself from the process of selecting road and bridge projects across the state, and turned those decisions over to the professionals in the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. In the same legislative bill, members reversed more than two decades of neglect by doubling funding for both the state and county highway systems. They prioritized bridge repairs, and dedicated the first new funds to the worst examples, as defined by ODOT.

Legislators did this without raising taxes, without increasing debt, while paying off old debt, and without taking tax dollars previously dedicated to any other funding priority. They rescued an aging and severely underfunded system in imminent and certain danger of losing eligibility for federal matching funds, and breathed life into ODOT’s eight-year planning process.

Subsequent state leaders have continued the miracle by increasing funding, and by avoiding the temptation to reinsert politics into the project selection process. The maintenance needs of the highway system and safety of the citizens are used to direct dollars, not political favoritism. Over the last eight years, Oklahoma has returned transportation infrastructure funding to a core priority. Because of its commitment and the establishment of the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund, ODOT, through its eight-year highway and bridge construction plan, has replaced or rehabilitated hundreds of bridges, and rehabilitated hundreds of miles of roadway.

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