Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Highway Work to Pump $1.5 Billion into State

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Highway Work to Pump $1.5 Billion into State

Article excerpt

Highway construction and repair is expected to pump more than $1.5 billion into the state's economy in the next five years, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said Monday.

This will include an estimated $1 billion set aside for construction, maintenance and repair of the non-interstate state highway system, which has been budgeted for $200 million per year.

In addition, the state will spend at least another $500 million on construction, realignment, maintenance and repair of the interstate highway system during that period.

For at least the next year, the department will award an average of $30 million worth of contracts monthly, which will make it the biggest construction employer in the state's history.

"What we're saying is that the uncertainty has been taken out of highway projects," said department spokesman Mike Mayberry. "Since we've been receiving an increase in gasoline tax, we're able to plan our expenditures. No longer do we need to depend upon whether the state's economy is doing good or bad to plan our projects."

This ambitious road-building program will sustain an estimated 12,000 jobs per year, said Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb.

"It is a win-win situation," he said. "We'll get good roads and lift ourselves by the economic boot straps.

"The economic impact of the road building program is very important to us right now ... and any increase in the program helps. The program is 50 percent bigger than what we've done in the past two years."

While McCaleb gives credit to the Legislature for being ``very generous'' in providing money for highways, those funds are coming from a $275 million tax package that increased the tax on gasoline by 6 cents to 16 cents a gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 3 cents to 13 cents a gallon.

The money generated from the tax collections also is matched with federal highway funds.

"We have been given the resources to get the jobs done as fast as we can," McCaleb said.

"When Gov. Bellmon came into office, there was $133 million in federal funds that were unused just because there was not any state dollars to match. We still have some federal dollars backed up. Now, with the resources we have we're matching that money and what jobs are on the highway program we are getting the right of way and getting them out to bid."

Highway work is widely distributed around the state, he said.

"A substantial portion of our system needs to be updated and improved," he said. "The interstate system alone is 20-25 years old. …

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