Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Highway Group Seeks Major Changes

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Highway Group Seeks Major Changes

Article excerpt

Stating that "it's not easy, otherwise someone else would have done it," a state highway advocacy group is seeking major changes in the state's surface transportation system.

Major points raised by The Oklahoma Highway Users Federation include more money poured into highways and a stronger emphasis on maintenance.

In a formal statement released Tuesday, federation officials said the state needs a firm commitment to a new transportation policy that removes politics from decision-making.

The statement, which the federation called "Transportation at the Crossroads: A policy statement," will be given to Gov. Frank Keating, legislators, transportation Secretary Herschal Crow and top staffers of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

No further lobbying effort will be done, but Executive Director Paul Matthews said "we hope that our member organizations will take care of that under its own auspices."

"This organization is a coalition of transportation-related groups," he said. "We hope that those groups now will step forward and do some of the things that must be done."

Not only did the statement call for setting firm terms for transportation commissioners, with one-fourth of them being replaced every two years, but also urged that politics be removed from the highway decision-making process.

"If we were to replace two of the commissioners every two years or so, then we could have some continuity on highways," Matthews said. "Now, the commissioners are supposed to have eight-year terms, but every time we have a new governor, we have new commissioners."

Oklahoma's roads are in such a poor condition because money has not been spent on maintenance in the past, according to Leonard West, who chaired the federation board's committee that developed the statement. West also is executive director of the Oklahoma Traffic Engineers Association.

"We have 112,000 miles of streets, roads and highways in Oklahoma that make up a connected network for transportation," West told reporters assembled for the policy statement introduction. "We must have a way to make this network safe and efficient."

One of the reasons that state roads have deteriorated over the past few years, West said, is because most of the highway user fees are diverted to other uses.

About 48 percent of the state's highway user fees -- everything from gasoline taxes to vehicle licenses -- goes to transportation, according to transportation department figures.

Oklahoma collected $984.39 million in user fees, while the transportation department received less $195.3 million, or less than 20 percent.

Municipalities divided up $23.6 million for streets, while counties received $222.4 million for roads and bridges, department figures show.

Another $32.4 million allocated to the Oklahoma Transportation Authority, the agency that handles the state's turnpikes, routinely is transferred to the transportation department. …

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