Fallin signs bills boosting funding for Department of Transportation

Governor Mary Fallin on Monday (June 4) signed two bills that will boost transportation system funding, including an increase in the flow of cash from income tax payments directly to transportation needs.

Appearing at a Blue Room ceremony marking enactment of the bills were the chief executive, Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley, House Speaker Kris Steele, House Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon, and state Sen. Clark Jolley.

Also participating in the event were members of the state Transportation Commission, the private “TRUST” organization that advocates transportation spending, and a range of business lobbyists who supported this year’s push for more funding of road and bridge construction.

Governor Fallin dubbed Ridley “the best transportation secretary in state history.” She said the surge in funding and building will move the state from having hundreds of structurally deficient bridges to one of America’s best systems. The object is the have “zero deficient bridges” by 2019.

Among other aspects of the plan, widely noted is the objective to use in county bridge construction an estimated 1,800 steel beams from the Interstate-40 Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City. Fallin said a “third leg” of the transportation improvement plan is providing $59 million (each) for improvements to the Kilpatrick (Oklahoma City) and Creek (Tulsa) turnpikes.

Before Fallin signed House Bills 2248 and 2249, Ridley, Shannon and Jolley also spoke.

The pair of legislators acknowledged the work of current and past solons, including former House Speaker Todd Hiett, who attended the signing ceremony, and Senator Bryce Marlatt, a Woodward Republican and co-sponsor of the two bills.

Rep. Shannon, a Lawton Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he looked forward to “no longer being embarrassed” by the condition of Oklahoma’s roads and bridges. He described transportation as “an area where economic development and public safety intersect.”

Sen. Jolley said of Secretary Ridley “there’s not a better penny pincher in government than this guy over here.” The Edmond Republican thanked Fallin for reappointing Ridley.

Secretary Ridley declared, “This is a big day for transportation in Oklahoma, the biggest day I’ve ever seen for transportation in Oklahoma.”

As a result of H.B 2248, the income tax allocation to the state Transportation Department will jump from $41.7 million to $59.7 million. Funding for the ROADS (Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Drivers Safety) Fund will increase $18 million annually until the fund balance grows from $435 million to $575 million.

As a result of H.B. 2249, county road and bridge improvements will get a 0.5 percent boost in allocations of motor vehicle fees, bringing that allotment to 15.5 percent. That percentage will leap to 18 percent in July 2013 and to 20 percent in July 2014. In dollar terms, the County Improvement and Roads and Bridges program will be increased by $30 million after implementation.

In all, the transportation agency reports, a total of $206.4 million in increased spending will return the department to 2009 funding levels. On a parallel track, passage and signing of House Bill 2391 will yield a total of $81 million for “port of entry” weigh and inspection station improvements.