Inadequate roads costs Oklahomans billions, report says

Wednesday, April 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahomans suffer $2.3 billion in lost time, extra repairs and accidents each year because of poorly maintained or overly congested roadways, according to a report released Wednesday.

That amounts to $1,053 per driver, said the report by The Road Improvement Program, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

TRIP, which is funded by the transportation industry, said about 44 percent of Oklahoma's roads are in poor or mediocre condition while the state leads the country in structurally deficient bridges.

Gary Ridley, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, called the state's roadways ``an embarrassment'' that will take years and billions of dollars to repair.

``The report contains sobering statistics,'' Ridley said. ``It shouldn't be surprising to us, and it isn't. The condition of our system has deteriorated over time.''

TRIP used federal and state agency data to compile its report titled, ``The Hidden Tax of Inadequate Roads in Oklahoma.''

It said widening the state's many two-lane roads and adding safety features like medians and wider shoulders would dramatically decrease traffic fatalities. Accidents claimed 676 lives in Oklahoma last year, costing $543 million, or $250 per driver, the report said.

Also, rough roads increase wear on vehicles, leading to extra repair and other operating costs of $1.1 billion, or $505 per driver, a year, the report said.

Traffic increased in Oklahoma by 27 percent from 1991 to 2001 without an increase in road capacity, causing increased congestion, the report said. Lost time and extra fuel use cost $647 million, or $298 per driver, each year, the report said.

The state is in the bottom third nationally in the percentage of roads in either poor or mediocre condition, and one-third of Oklahoma's 22,708 bridges have deteriorated or are not meeting safety standards, TRIP said.

``Once a state gets in this situation, it doesn't get out overnight,'' said Frank Moretti, TRIP's policy and research director. ``The states that pull out of this situation are ones that make transportation a much higher priority.''

Ridley said the state's roads need $7.3 billion and bridges need about $3 billion in additional funding just to address a maintenance backlog.

Sen. James Inhofe, Reps. Ernest Istook and John Sullivan, all R-Okla., hold positions on transportation panels in Congress, which is where much of the state's road funding comes from.

``We have a lot of the key players in Washington that can help us, but we can't rely on them,'' Ridley said. ``We need some greater commitment from the state.

``Somehow we need to change the priorities of how we spend our money and how we fund transportation,'' he said.

The Legislature is considering asking voters to raise gasoline and diesel fuel sales taxes by 5 and 8 cents, respectively, to raise $145 million for roads and bridges maintenance. The bill would put the question on the ballot in November.

Faced with a budget shortfall of almost $700 million, Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders have agreed to a spending plan for next fiscal year that includes a 14.3 percent cut in transportation spending.