Rising truck traffic take a toll on Oklahoma roads

Monday, July 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The volume of tractor-trailer trucks that rumble through Oklahoma doubled between 1996 and 1999, and state officials believe the increase is hastening the deterioration of roads they are struggling to maintain.

The state has about 3,350 miles of deficient highways and bridges, according to a study conducted by the Oklahoma Transportation Center, a research center operated by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

Jay Adams, assistant planner for the Oklahoma Transportation Department, said each 80,000-pound truck causes wear to state roads equal to about 1,000 cars crossing the same spot of pavement.

Trucking officials said their industry is vital to the nation.

``About 95 percent of everything you touch every day comes in a truck. And trucks pay a tremendous amount of taxes,'' said Dan Case, executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association.

Case said the average tractor-trailer rig owner pays an annual $1,350 tag fee to the state and between $1,500 and $3,000 in state fuel taxes. The problem, he said, is that not enough of that tax revenue goes to highway maintenance.

Terri Angier, state Transportation Department spokeswoman, said a study by the Washington-based The Road Information Program ranked Oklahoma second in the nation in 2001 for the amount of money taken from vehicle tax revenues and used for something other than highway maintenance.

Angier said 20 cents of each dollar collected for motor vehicle tax by the Oklahoma Tax Commission goes to the Transportation Department. The rest goes to city and county roads and other uses not related to roadways, she said.

State roadways have been underfunded for at least 45 consecutive years, she said, and as tractor-trailer traffic increases each year, so does the need for road work.

Case said Oklahoma has the highest number of rigs traveling across it of any state because it is where Interstate 40 and Interstate 35 intersect.

Statistics from the Transportation Department show that in 1996, tractor-trailers traveled about 5.2 billion miles in the state. In 1999, rigs traveled about 13.4 billion miles.

About 40 Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers routinely stop and check the weight and the equipment on a tractor-trailer.

Lt. John Hardridge, who heads the patrol's commercial vehicle enforcement division, said tractor-trailer traffic has increased in recent years, but the number of inspections has not.

``There are more people out there, more businesses and more freight,'' Hardridge said. ``It's a busy job, but we can do it,'' Hardridge said.

Last year, troopers made about 16,000 inspections and wrote 2,000 citations for weight violations.