Proposed deep cuts in federal highway spending over the next six years would have a devastating effect on Oklahoma's eight-year road- and bridge-building plan and likely would delay key projects, including completion of the new Crosstown Expressway, the state's transportation secretary said Monday.
With Congress at odds over how to fund transportation, the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., has proposed a six-year transportation reauthorization bill that calls for spending about $230 billion, or nearly 20 percent less than the last long-term bill that was signed into law in 2005, Gary Ridley told members of the state Transportation Commission during its monthly meeting Monday. When money from the federal stimulus program is factored in, the bill would cut transportation spending by about one-third from current levels.
“It would almost be impossible for us to keep the current eight-year program intact,” said Ridley, who also serves as state Transportation Department director in addition to serving as serving as transportation secretary on Gov. Mary Fallin's Cabinet.
Oklahoma receives nearly $600 million in federal transportation funds a year, Ridley said. A cut of one-third would be about $200 million.
Ridley said the cut would be so extreme his agency would be unable to protect the $670 million Crosstown Expressway project, the most expensive project in state history. The seven-year project to relocate Interstate 40 through downtown Oklahoma City is scheduled to be completed next year.
“When you talk about those kind of numbers, everything is at risk,” he said. “You just can't say that something is going to be protected over everything else.”
Ridley told commissioners that Mica has said the lower funding levels in the bill can be offset by cutting federal regulations that often slow project completions and inflate costs.
The Senate is working on its own proposal, Ridley said. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a member of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, has asked Ridley to testify July 21 in Washington about the importance of federal highway funds to the states. The committee chairman, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has offered a two-year proposal that would maintain current spending levels.
Ridley said a one-third cut of federal funds would cripple road and bridge projects across the country. Many states, such as Oklahoma, have gone through economic slowdowns caused partially by the national recession, and lack funds to make up the loss of federal money. The Transportation Department received about $420 million in state money for the 2012 fiscal year, which started July 1.
The House proposal, if approved, would result in about $200 million being taken each year for six years from Oklahoma's eight-year $4.2 billion road- and bridge-building program.
“You can't reduce infrastructure spending by that much without affecting everything,” Ridley said.