Oklahoma Transportation Chief: Road, Bridge Cuts Would Devastate

May 5, 2010

Oklahoma’s transportation secretary warned of devastating consequences if massive state budget cuts are imposed on road and bridge maintenance and construction program.

The Department of Transportation would lose $492 million over eight years if lawmakers impose a 20 percent cut, severely curtailing the state’s effort to upgrade and rebuild obsolete and deficient roads and bridges, said Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley.

“It would be a huge, huge impact,” Ridley said following Monday’s meeting of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission.

State lawmakers are studying the effect of budget cuts on state agencies and the services they provide as they prepare a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers expect to have $1.2 billion less to spend than during the previous year due to low energy prices and the faltering economy.

The Transportation Department could be looking at budget cuts of between 12 percent and 17 percent if the budgets of all state agencies are cut evenly, said Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, chairman of an appropriations subcommittee on general government and transportation.

“We have overdrawn the citizens’ checking account. We’ve got to trim,” Brogdon said.

Brogdon, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said he is concerned about the impact budget cuts would have on the state’s road and bridge program and other state services.

“I worry about some of the bridges that I drive across,” he said. “No one likes the pain that we’re in right now.”

But he said the revenue shortfall presents an opportunity for lawmakers to prioritize the state budget and dedicate scarce resources to the most vital state services, like public safety.

Ridley released a copy of a letter he wrote at Brogdon’s request last week that outlined the impact cuts of between 10 percent and 20 percent would have on his agency.

“The department will have no choice but to delay and eliminate construction work plan bridge replacements and highway projects to maintain our fiscal responsibility and avoid bolstering false transportation improvement expectations in all regions of the state,” Ridley wrote.

The Transportation Department would lose $35 million a year if a 10 percent budget cut is imposed and $55 million a year if the cut is 20 percent, Ridley said.

The new funding level would create a baseline for each year of the state’s eight-year construction work plan, meaning that the budget cut would equal $440 million over eight years if budget cuts totaled 20 percent.

Another $52 million would be lost due to the cancellation of a previously approved bond sale planned in August, for a total loss of $492 million, he said.

Ridley said the Transportation Department depends on “long-term, consistent funding commitments” to guide its road and bridge maintenance and improvement program.

“While our infrastructure needs are great and our problems are complex, the solution is relatively simple,” Ridley said. “Maintain the current long-term, consistent funding commitments and redouble our resolve to continue with our clear mission and strategy.”

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