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Federal grant for visitors' center in southeastern Oklahoma is defended by Talihina official

A proposed Talimena Drive visitors center, cited as wasteful government spending by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, comes from a federal program that funds improvements along the nation's scenic byways, says Vern Nelson, director of the Talihina Chamber of Commerce.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: December 21, 2011

— Talimena Drive, a national scenic byway in southeastern Oklahoma, “is in dire need of a visitors' center,” said Vern Nelson, director of the Talihina Chamber of Commerce.

“We really need a strong presence” along the drive, Nelson said Tuesday.

But the $529,689 federal grant to refurbish a rock house for use as a visitors' center was cited on Tuesday in a report by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, as an example of wasteful government spending.

According to Coburn's report, it would be the fourth federally-funded visitors center along the 54-mile stretch, and the $653,000 cost of the project is more than 14 times the median home value in Talihina.

“The federal grant for a duplicative visitor center makes even less sense when one considers that the scenic Talimena Drive isn't the most pressing transportation need in eastern Oklahoma: its crumbling road infrastructure makes the area 8th in the nation for its number of structurally deficient bridges,” Coburn's report states.

Nelson said she agrees that the roads and bridges in the area are in need of repair. But, she said, the money for the visitors' center came from a U.S. Department of Transportation program for projects such as the center.

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