AFTER spending two decades as a budgeting afterthought, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation in 2005 finally began getting the attention it deserved from the Legislature. Has it received too much love?
The Oklahoma Policy Institute suggests the answer is yes. In a recent posting on its website, OK Policy notes that the two agencies that have escaped the budget knife in recent, tough fiscal years have been the state Medicaid program and ODOT. Transportation funding has tripled since fiscal year 2005, the think tank says, while state spending on public education has increased just 13 percent.
If improving our infrastructure is an important job of state government, OK Policy says, “we must also be prepared to ask at what point our commitment to road and bridge repair may be working at the expense of other critical state goals. Since we have not raised any new revenues, increased investments in transportation means less money for other components of the budget.”
Yes, the amount of additional state funding directed to the repair and upkeep of roads and bridges in recent years has been significant. But it has needed to be significant because during the 20 years before things began to change, the Legislature wrote the same size check to ODOT every year — translating to a 45 percent reduction after inflation. That certainly didn't happen with education funding.
This neglect of transportation helped our roads and bridges fall into serious disrepair. At one time, about 1,200 of 6,800 bridges on state roads were structurally deficient. Now that total is closer to 700, and the plan is to reduce it to close to zero during the next several years. This can only happen if money is available to make it happen.