Amid the gamesmanship and noise at the Capitol during the legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers occasionally manage to do good work on behalf of taxpayers. Examples of that are found in two bills signed Monday by Gov. Mary Fallin.
House Bill 2248 and HB 2249, both by Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, are designed to nearly eliminate the number of structurally deficient bridges in the state in the next seven years. That total now stands at more than 700.
Transportation advocates, road contractors, engineers and others were among the large crowd who attended the bill signing ceremony — a celebration of sorts, and for good reason. After so many years as an afterthought, road and bridge repair and upkeep are and remain a priority at the Legislature.
After winning control of the House in 2004, Republicans pushed for better funding for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, whose annual budget had been fixed at $200 million for two decades. That change helped ODOT get to work moving the state gradually away from the top spot in national rankings for bad bridges.
HB 2248 increases to $59.7 million, from $41.7 million, the amount directed annually to a fund ODOT uses for fixing structurally deficient bridges. The $18 million per year in added revenue will come from income tax collections. The fund now stands at $435 million; it will be capped at $575 million.
HB 2249 increases the amount counties get each year to spend on their roads and bridges. Some of that money could go for beams from the former Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway to be used in building county bridges.
ODOT has been able to repair more than 600 structurally deficient bridges since 2006. By 2019, agency Director Gary Ridley promised Fallin, “we will be at the top of the list with bridges in our country as we compare ourselves to other states.” That's got a nice ring to it.