Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Cities Receive Federal Funds for Community Improvements

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma Cities Receive Federal Funds for Community Improvements

Article excerpt

Thirty Oklahoma cities have been awarded a total of $12 million in federal funds for largely aesthetic community improvement projects through an Oklahoma Department of Transportation enhancement program, officials announced.

But aesthetics involves more than just appearances, said Newcastle City Manager Nick Nazar.

"This will provide a pretty substantial area for walking for our citizens, and a safer route for people to exercise on. We don't have a sidewalk currently that connects our schools together, so kids have had to walk alongside the busy road," he said.

Newcastle's trails project is a prime example of the intended use of the federally earmarked funds, said Rick Johnson, special projects branch manager for the Transportation Department. The money is proposed to be set aside by Congress specifically for aesthetic improvement projects, such as beautification, streetscaping, bicycle paths, sidewalks and historical preservation. The funds cannot be used for normal road or bridge construction, Johnson said.

He said the state Transportation Commission, which oversees the funds' distribution, approved only half of the 60 submitted proposals for enhancement projects. The approved projects are worth about $17 million after matching sponsor funds are included. He estimated 80 percent of the proposals involve new bicycle and pedestrian paths or bringing existing trails into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"A lot of the smaller communities are trying to make their downtown areas accessible for all people, and a bulk of the money is spent on features such as handicap ramps and accessible sidewalks into businesses," he said. "So there is an aesthetic component, but I would say the bulk of the program is to provide compliance to businesses and stores in rural communities that would not otherwise be able to."

The commission also approved six broader categories to receive $6 million in dedicated enhancement funding: bicycle and pedestrian programs, facility improvements, outdoor advertising removal, scenic and historic highway programs, tree grants and disability accessibility programs. …

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