OKLAHOMA has a serious infrastructure problem. And we're not just talking about the state Capitol or the state medical examiner's office, buildings that have garnered tons of publicity in recent years because they're in such bad shape.
We're talking about roads, bridges, dams and other vital infrastructure. All of it needs attention, as a study by the state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers makes clear.
Called “The Report Card for Oklahoma's Infrastructure,” the study released in March involved more than 20 professionals, most of them civil engineers, from public agencies, private firms and nonprofit groups in the state. They spent a year and a half compiling and crunching data. They looked at such things as the condition of the infrastructure; past, current and predicted future funding; future need for those items; operations and maintenance, and the danger posed to the public by an ineffective system. Researchers assigned letter grades as follows:
Considering that a grade of C means the infrastructure is marginally performing, Oklahoma has a lot of work to do. Some of that work is under way, as the researchers noted regarding roads and bridges — the state is now, after years of legislative indifference that resulted in inadequate funding, aggressively working to reduce and eventually eliminate the number of structurally deficient bridges across Oklahoma.
The engineers offered suggestions for policymakers for every category. A common theme: It's going to take money to make this happen. For example, they suggested a funding increase for preventative maintenance to airport runways in order to not have to spend much more in the future. They recommended creating a low-interest loan program for high-hazard dam owners to help them come into compliance with federally mandated changes. They called for more paved shoulders and cable median barriers on our roads.
They'd like to see more emphasis on connecting metro and suburban areas with transit to help ease congestion. They said new financing methods will be needed to deal with the ongoing demise of existing water and wastewater utility systems. (No surprise there: Two years ago, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board estimated it would take $87 billion over the next 50 years to pay for improvements to water-related infrastructure.)
The engineers said any number of organizations routinely collect data about infrastructure, but it's usually targeted for the specific uses of those groups. One thing that sets this report apart, they said, is that it looks at several infrastructure areas and is presented in a format that's easy to understand.
“Where infrastructure is marginally performing, poorly maintained or failing, immediate action should be taken by the public and our elected leaders to reverse the trend and to improve the grade,” the engineers said.
The report, available at www.asce.org, is indeed easy to understand. Not so easy will be getting lawmakers, who so far haven't been able to agree on how to fix the Capitol, to craft ways to pay for these considerably more expensive needs.