You know it’s a great day in Oklahoma when you’re traveling, and all you can see are orange pylons. Even though road construction can be a bit of an inconvenience, it’s a sign that our state is investing in our greatest physical asset—our transportation system. It means we are improving safety with modernizations and expansions that will also enable us to grow our economy, creating new jobs. For Fiscal Year 2021, state highway funding is $814 million, with another $620 million in federal highway funds for a total of $1.5 billion for roads and bridges.
There was a time in Oklahoma when politics determined where roads were going to be built, but the Legislature stepped forward some 15 years ago and said, that’s enough—we need engineers and people who will look at what the most critical needs are and prioritize them. We need good roads for our economy and for safety. So, an eight-year roads plan was developed in 2005. The program was called ROADS, for Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety. In 2006, the Legislature added $15 million to the appropriation and said they wanted that extra money to go toward the eight-year plan. That dollar amount grew to $170 million, and then in 2012, that amount was raised to $575 million a year, and it was off-the-top money, with 100 percent of it going to fix our roads.
The impact this has had is remarkable. You might remember back in August it was announced we’d gone from being in the bottom 10 states in the nation for the condition of our bridges to becoming a Top 10 state. In 2004, nearly 1,200 of Oklahoma’s 6,800 highway bridges were considered structurally deficient. By August, we were down to just 86 bridges awaiting repair or replacement. This was really, really good news for our state.
Lawmakers also looked at transportation needs at the county level. In 2006, the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) Fund was created—again, with the aim of taking politics out of the process and prioritizing the most crucial projects that might not otherwise have gotten the funding needed. CIRB was based on a five-year plan, and it was allocated five percent of the motor vehicle tax collections—that amount was increased several times and was up to 20 percent in 2015. After $138 million was apportioned to the CIRB fund in Fiscal Year 2015, the fund was capped at $120 million a year, and has reached that cap each year.
From FY 2008 through 2020, CIRB has funded 777 total construction projects, including 609 bridges replaced or repaired, and 960 roadway miles improved. The total CIRB funds during that time came in at over $1.9 billion.
We also wanted to make sure that the resources we drew from for roads and bridges actually had a connection to our transportation infrastructure. One thing we looked at was fuel taxes, which had remained unchanged for some 30 years. In 2018, we raised the gasoline excise tax by three cents, and the diesel excise tax by six cents. In Fiscal Year 2020, those increases produced another $57.5 million in gas taxes, and a little over $55 million in diesel taxes for the ROADS program.
Another part of our infrastructure is our turnpike system. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) collected $327.4 million in tolls and $2.4 million in concession revenues during 2019. OTA had $114.5 million in operating expenses that year, including $25.5 million in turnpike maintenance, and $24 million in toll operations. By the end of 2019, the OTA asset value totaled $2.99 billion, with total liabilities of $2.19 billion, for a net position of $880.6 million. The Turnpike Authority continues to increase their footprint in Oklahoma, alleviating serious congestion issues in high traffic areas of the state. The OTA also contributes on a regular basis to our Oklahoma Highway Patrol academies, and that’s extremely important for public safety.
So, remember, when you see those orange pylons and signs that say construction ahead, that’s a really good thing. These projects are your tax dollars being spent wisely, addressing the safety and transportation infrastructure needs of Oklahoma.
If you have any questions about the budget or the appropriations process, I invite you to contact me at 405-521-5588 or email Roger.Thompson@oksenate.gov. Thank you.