Change urged on highway funds

By John Sutter Published: March 30, 2006
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Commissioners don't like equal-allocation decision

Oklahoma County commissioners voted Wednesday to lobby and seek legal action against a state-level association they say robbed urban counties of money to repair crumbling bridges.

The Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma defends its decision to split $25 million equally among the state's 77 counties. Its leaders say that decision is fair and the state's worst county bridges are in small counties.

That money came from a one-time appropriation from the state Legislature intended to fix the worst county highway bridges.

The association's division of the money infuriated officials in the state's most populous county, who said the group should have based its ruling on county population, road miles or the need for bridges instead of a 77-way split.

Small counties need help
Association president and Johnston County Commissioner Mike Thompson said small counties don't have the money to fix bridges and need more state help than giants like Oklahoma and Tulsa counties.

He said, for example, that a bridge in Jackson County -- population 28,439, according to the 2000 census -- crumbled into a creek. Residents have to detour 20 miles around the fallen bridge, he said.

"I think them folks count for just as much as the folks in that county do," Thompson said.

He said he feels bullied by Oklahoma County commissioners who he said have used The Oklahoman to advance their agenda and show their might.

In Wednesday's Oklahoma County meeting, District 1 Commissioner Jim Roth said the association is playing Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to poor rural counties that maintain fewer and much less expensive bridges.

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