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Oklahoma Roads 'Life Threatening,' Senator Inhofe Says

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The disrepaired state of Oklahoma bridges and roads is dangerous to drivers, Inhofe said. The disrepaired state of Oklahoma bridges and roads is dangerous to drivers, Inhofe said.

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The poor state of Oklahoma's bridges and roads is "life threatening," and the state can't afford Congressional bickering that threatens to block federal aid for improvements, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe said Wednesday.

"We have bridges in Oklahoma that are crumbling and falling down. People could be hurt," said Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has a Friday deadline for reauthorizing spending on road and bridge projects.

Oklahoma could lose up to $30 million if Congress doesn't act, he said.

"We have to do this," Inhofe said. "That's what we are supposed to be doing here.

"Any government that can spend $700 billion to bail out banks shouldn't be having the problems that we're having."

Inhofe voted against a $700 billion bank bailout bill approved during former President George W. Bush's last year in office.

He spoke Wednesday by telephone from Washington after Oklahoma transportation officials expressed concern about declining federal support for Oklahoma's road and bridge projects. Oklahoma officials say plans to repair or replace hundreds of obsolete bridges and thousands of miles of defective roads will be delayed without federal aid.

"We feel like we're being shorted," Mike Patterson, director of finance for the Transportation Department, told state lawmakers and transportation officials at a meeting of the Oklahoma ROADS Task Force.

The task force is a coalition of state, county and municipal governments and private contractors created by the Legislature to assess state transportation needs and funding.

Patterson said the state has lost $391 million in federal highway funds since 2003 because Congress did not appropriate as much money as it authorized Oklahoma to spend.

Federal fuel taxes for roads and bridges are not raising enough money to fund authorized projects, and the federal Highway Trust Fund has been on the verge of insolvency, Patterson said. More fuel-efficient vehicles and high fuel prices that resulted in motorists driving less have reduced the amount of federal fuel tax revenue for state road and bridge projects, he said.

Meanwhile, a 16 percent increase in state turnpike tolls approved by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority in July appears to be providing enough money to pay for construction and maintenance work on Oklahoma's 10 turnpikes, OTA director Phil Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson said revenue declined by about $22 million in the past year due to the faltering economy and a sharp reduction in travel by commercial trucks, a major source of turnpike revenue. The OTA, which receives no state tax money, generates about $220 million in revenue a year, he said.

Turnpike authorities will consider by 2012 adding new lanes to portions of the Kilpatrick Turnpike in Oklahoma City and the Creek and Turner turnpikes in Tulsa due to increasing traffic in the urban areas, Tomlinson said.

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