WASHINGTON — Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told a Senate committee Thursday that federal red tape has stalled improvements to an Interstate 235 ramp near the research park where General Electric is planning its Global Oil and Natural Gas Technology Center.
Testifying to the Environment and Public Works Committee on the need for more flexibility in road projects, Cornett said the Federal Highway Administration is behind the delay of the ramp project.
Questioned about the delay by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is chairman of the committee, Cornett said the Federal Highway Administration required an “access justification report,” even though the state Transportation Department didn’t think it was necessary.
“We thought it was a straightforward improvement — just simply enhancing traffic flows on one single ramp,” Cornett said. “And to cut to the end of the story, we’ve now been delayed 120 days for a process that we don’t feel like was even necessary to begin with.”
Boxer said she didn’t like the fact that the project has been delayed, but she said federal officials shouldn’t “step away” from a federal highway project that counted on federal funding.
“I just think what we need to do is make sure you get these answers in a quicker way,” Boxer said.
Cornett was one of several local officials called to give input into a new long-term highway bill that Boxer wants to finish by the end of April.
Cornett and others told the committee that local governments need improved roads and transit systems to attract industry and move people quickly and safely through cities and rural areas.
Cornett said the city has state and federal partnerships to build and rehabilitate many sidewalks, add bike paths and lanes and improve local streets. And he said the city acquired the former Santa Fe Depot with plans of making it a transportation hub for the metropolitan area.
Congress is faced with the task of finding more money to keep up with the nation’s transportation needs. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which receives the revenue from the federal gas tax, has been shrinking in recent years because cars are more fuel-efficient and people are driving less.
Congress is not expected to approve an increase in the federal gas tax, which has left members looking for new streams of revenue. One senator asked the local officials for suggestions.
“Whatever taxation system is used, it needs to be tied to miles driven,” Cornett said. “I think the gas tax is an appropriate solution.
“I would also, though, recommend we start spending more on (research and development) so we can start reducing the cost of the projects themselves. I’m still waiting for some big technology advancement ... in raw materials or construction costs or design so we can somehow reduce the cost of these so we don’t need to raise so much money.”