Board to consider bond issue for major road projects

Wednesday, October 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Almost $800 million in road projects was authorized by the Oklahoma Contingency Review Board on Wednesday under a program that will permit the state to issue bonds backed by anticipated federal highway funds.

The bond program will allow the state to begin work on the projects sooner than expected and not have to wait for federal funds to be distributed over the next few years. Seventy-five percent of the projects were on the state's five-year construction program.

``We're going to build free roads at turnpike speed,'' Secretary of Transportation Neal McCaleb said.

The road projects include $50 million to rebuild and upgrade Oklahoma 99 from Interstate 40 south to Ada and $102 million to four-lane Oklahoma 3, known as the Nothwest Passage, from Woodward to Watonga.

The proposal also includes $72.4 million to widen U.S. 70 from Idabel to the Indian Nation Turnpike, a project that Gov. Frank Keating said will result in a $300 million investment in the area by national timber producer Weyerhaeuser Co.

The company has said that if the 43-mile stretch of highway was four-laned, it would hire up to 1,000 temporary workers during the next five years while rebuilding two of its three machines that make cardboard box lining. A new machine costs about $1 billion.

Weyerhaeuser has about 1,200 Oklahoma-based employees and is the largest employer in southeast Oklahoma.

Bonds issued for the projects are known as Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, or GARVEE bonds. They will permit the state to dedicate anticipated federal highway funds for road projects that enhance the economic development of an area.

McCaleb said the state will have three or four bond issues over the next two or three years, each totaling about $200 million. The total cost of the road projects is $799 million.

The bond program is in addition to $300 million in road construction projects approved by the Legislature in the last session. Over the last six years, the Keating administration and the Legislature have dedicated about almost $5 billion to infrastructure improvements.

Authority to issue GARVEE bonds was authorized by the Legislature this year and requires the unanimous approval of the Contingency Review Board, which is comprised of Keating, House Speaker Loyd Benson and Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor.

Other projects and their costs include:

_Widening U.S. 70 from Interstate 35 to Durant, $136.9 million.

_Widening U.S. 169 to six lanes from I-244 in Tulsa south to 21st Street, $19.9 million.

_Widening U.S. 183 from U.S. 70 to Interstate 40 between Davidson and Clinton, $110 million.

_Improvements to the interchange of Memorial Road and the Broadway Extension in Oklahoma City, $22 million.

In other action, the board ratified boundary lines within Lake Texhoma, a lake formed by the Red River that forms part of the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma.

The boundary line is part of the Red River Compact approved by the two states, said Rep. James Dunegan, D-Calera, who helped broker the deal. Dunegan said President Clinton signed the agreement on Tuesday, ending the nearly 200-year-old boundary battle.

``This dispute is officially over,'' Keating said.