Oklahoma has waited a long time to make a return on its investment into the Highway Trust Fund, but a $286-billion transportation measure will soon change that. If President Bush signs the bill into law, Oklahoma stands to gain even more from a tiny portion of the 1,300 page legislation.
News on 6 anchor Tami Marler says most of Oklahoma's $558-million share of federal money would go toward highways and bridges. More than $118-million would pay for widening I-44 between Yale and the Arkansas River.
All that road construction is going to take a lot of concrete and asphalt and the state's most powerful senator says he has a solution to a couple of Oklahoma's most serious problems. US Senator Jim Inhofe: "I chair a committee called the Environment and Public Works Committee and that has to do with all the highways and infrastructure, but also, 17 bureaucracies such as the EPA, the Corps of Engineers."
Senator Jim Inhofe was instrumental in putting together the transportation bill, which also provides $10-million in funding for another of his areas of influence, the Tar Creek Superfund site, which falls under the Environmental Protection Agency. The Ottawa County landscape is dominated by mountains of lead-laced mining waste, called "chat" by the locals. "I'd say up until about four years ago no one talked about the fact that there can be great assets there. We need to turn them into assets. They can be beneficial to the individuals; they can be beneficial to the tribes. I think it just makes sense."
State officials recently began buying out families with small children, because of the health threat of lead in the mine tailings. Senator Inhofe says what's been considered a poison for 25 years, can safely be used to make roads and bridges. "I mean once you get it encapsulated into building materials like concrete, rocks and that type of thing, its safe. Let's turn a lemon into lemonade, and that's exactly what we're doing."
Critics of the transportation bill call extra spending like Inhofe's Tar Creek project "pork." He calls it progress. Critics of Inhofe's plan to remove chat from the Tar Creek area have raised concerns about the lead dust that's stirred up when trucks drive through the towns of Picher and Cardin. The senator says that is being studied as well.