City Officials in Oklahoma Seek More State Money for Roads, Bridges

March 19, 2008

Oklahoma municipal leaders have asked state lawmakers to support increasing state funding for transportation projects in cities and towns and said crumbling roads and bridges pose a public safety threat in local communities.

Mayors and police and fire chiefs from across the state joined other members of the Oklahoma Municipal League in urging lawmakers to increase funds appropriated for local road and bridge projects. Counties receive $280 million from the state’s motor vehicle and fuel tax, but cities receive $23 million from the same revenue source for streets and alleys.

“We have to have safe passage every time we go to an accident,” said Dan Yancey, chief of police in Owasso. “The worse thing that can happen is for government’s lack of due diligence to protect its citizens and public safety officials to be the reason for an emergency.”

Many Oklahoma cities and towns have reevaluated the routes they use to respond to emergencies following the collapse of a bridge in Enid last year after a 37-ton Enid Fire Department ladder truck drove over it upon returning from a fire call.

The bridge, which had been posted with a 13-ton weight limit, has since been replaced with a new bridge that is rated at 47 tons. But Ken Helms of the Enid Fire Department said the incident has resulted in longer response times to emergencies as firefighters avoid other load-posted bridges.

“We never want to delay our response,” said Fred Calhoun, deputy fire marshal for Oklahoma City. “We need safe bridges and safe roads.”

Municipalities support a plan that would allow cities to keep a half-cent of the 4.5-cent state sales tax rate already collected within their borders. But the legislation’s author, Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, said the measure did not get a hearing because it would remove $182 million from state coffers.

“Our cities and towns are not getting adequate funding,” said Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, author of a different measure that would reallocate motor vehicle tag revenue now being deposited into the state’s general fund to transportation needs. Martin’s bill also was not heard.

The House and Senate have approved separate measures that would free up an additional $32.5 million for road and bridge maintenance, but officials said it is unclear if the state can afford to increase transportation spending in what will be a tight budget year.

Legislation passed two years ago authorized $17.5 million a year in new spending on roads and bridges and another $32.5 million if economic growth pushed state revenue up at least 3 percent over the prior year.

The House and Senate bills would eliminate the growth trigger and authorize the full $50 million increase in maintenance funds. The fate of the legislation will be determined in budget negotiations between legislative leaders and Gov. Brad Henry.

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