By Craig Day, The News On 6
McALESTER, OK -- A discussion about fixing our highways and bridges took center stage during a forum with several members of Oklahoma's Congressional Delegation.
Those lawmakers and transportation leaders held a town hall meeting in McAlester. They say there has to be a better way of bringing federal dollars back to Oklahoma.
With fewer people driving during the recession, and more fuel efficient cars, that means less collected in gas taxes and less money for the federal highway trust fund.
"I think for all intents and purposes, it's at the end of its life," said Gary Ridley, OK Transportation Secretary.
The fund has run out of money twice. Several members of Oklahoma's Congressional Delegation and transportation leaders held a public forum to talk about possible solutions.
"I think we're very concerned about the roads and bridges in Oklahoma, whether we're getting our fair share of dollars," said Rep. Dan Boren, (D) Oklahoma.
The panel hopes to come up with ideas to create a more dependable and diversified revenue stream of federal highway dollars.
"I think you have to have funding sources that maybe are a broad spectrum and maybe not tied to one thing like gas and diesel," said Gary Ridley.
One possible solution: more money from the stimulus going to roads and bridges.
"We were originally told that we were going to jump start our economy by building up our infrastructure in this nation, but yet a small percentage of that actually went to roads and bridges," said Rep. Mary Fallin, (R) Oklahoma.
One of the panelists, former National Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb, is now president of the TRUST coalition, which stands for Transportation Revenue Used Strictly for Transportation.
He says too much money goes to unnecessary projects like bike paths and highway beautification.
"If we had extra money, that would be good, but we don't have extra money. We have critical, measurable needs to fix our roads and fix our bridges, and that should be job one," said Neal McCaleb, TRUST President.
The panelists say it will likely take a combination of ideas to fix the funding problem. They agree, something needs to be done and soon.
While the panelists say more money needs to be found for highways, they don't support increasing the federal gas tax during a recession.