Federal funding threatens Oklahoma road projects

AP News
Posted: Dec 08, 2009 10:54 AM

The Oklahoma Transportation Commission scheduled bid openings on more than $200 million in road and bridge projects without knowing whether it will have enough money to pay for them.

Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said Congress has not provided as much money for road and bridge work as it previously authorized due to declining revenue from federal fuel taxes. Congress has taken emergency steps to keep transportation programs going through the end of the year as it debates how to fund roads and bridges in the future.

"We're going to have to come up with some other ways," Ridley said. "All of it is tied to funding, how transportation will be funded in the future."

The commission on Monday authorized a final date to open bids in January and tentative dates for February and March bid openings for projects valued at $206.1 million.

They include projects across the state that are partially or totally funded with federal transportation dollars, including a $2.7 million in improvements to the U.S. 62 bridge over the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System funded totally by federal dollars.

Ridley has previously said federal support for state road projects has declined by $15 million a month due to declining revenue from federal fuel taxes that go to the highway trust fund.

"That has a really bad affect. At some point in time it's going to really affect projects," Ridley said. He said plans to repair or replace hundreds of obsolete bridges and thousands of miles of defective roads will be delayed without sufficient federal aid.

In October, the Transportation Department scaled back projects that contractors were scheduled to bid on from $53 million to about $7 million _ an 85 percent reduction. About 20 road and bridge projects were dropped from November's project list and contracts for the work probably will not be awarded until next spring.

The fund has been hit hard by a reduction in the amount of gas purchased by American motorists. Congress had to pump $8 billion into the fund last fall to keep it solvent.

A proposal to raise the tax, which has been unchanged since 1993 despite steep rises in construction costs, has run into opposition. The tax now stands at 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.3 cents for diesel and is not enough to provide the revenue needed to pay for infrastructure projects.

Oklahoma received $465 million in federal economic stimulus money for road and bridge improvements and other transportation projects, and has already obligated most of the money. Projects included a $75 million contract to improve part of Interstate 244 in Tulsa that ranked as the single largest public transportation contract in state history.

Past studies have estimated the state has 1,600 deficient bridges and more than 4,000 miles of deteriorated highways, about one-third of the state's 12,266-mile road network.