Governor Brad Henry proposes funding boost for roads, bridges

Wednesday, January 25th 2006, 12:39 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Brad Henry on Tuesday proposed spending an extra $100 million this year for bridge repair and an additional $520 million on highway projects over a 10-year period.

His plan also includes a ``lockbox'' provision to ensure future legislators do not shift highway funds to other areas. Fuel taxes are the stable of state highway funding.

Henry said his proposal will ``improve public safety, lessen motorists' headaches and boost our job creation efforts all in one stroke.''

It calls for immediate investment of $100 million for bridge projects across the state. Half of the money would go to state projects and half to counties and municipalities.

The $100 million would come from surplus funds that accrue after the Rainy Day Fund is filled.

Under the governor's plan, the Legislature would annualize the payment of $70 million that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation now pays in debt service on highway bonds. As the bond payments decrease, the agency will pick up $420 million in additional funds over the next 10 years.

The Henry plan does not count additional ODOT funding provided by legislation signed into law last year. The cumulative total of both initiatives is $1.9 billion over the next decade.

Henry said the proposal won't fix all of Oklahoma's road problems ``but motorists in all four corners of the state will see improvements on their most dangerous bridges and stretches of highways very soon.''

Gary Ridley, ODOT director, said the program is ``the greatest movement in (highway) funding in my tenure.'' Ridley has been with the agency since 1965.

ODOT says more than 1,600 Oklahoma bridges are in need of replacement or rehabilitation and 3,000 miles of highways, one-fourth of state roads, need to be replaced or upgraded.

Ridley said Henry's program ``will enable us to provide a long-term comprehensive plan that will meet the needs of the state.''

Henry said he expects bipartisan support for his road program.

``I think both House and Senate leaders are committed to finding a long-term solution for our highway maintenance needs and this program provides that. I look forward to discussing the issue with them in greater detail and hope we can move quickly to pass this initiative early in the session.''

Last September, voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly defeated a fuel tax increase plan to raise money for highways. Supporters blamed the defeat on the spike in gasoline prices.