The House approved a bill Wednesday that would allow money to be used from an existing 1-cent tax on a gallon of gasoline to pay for three remaining port of entry truck weighing and inspection stations.
House Democrats complained that the money could be used for other purposes and Rep. Jerry McPeak said the new stations, estimated to cost about $11 million each, were too “dadgummed fancy.”
“I'm thinking I might ought to get a cot and go live in one of those rascals because I'm pretty sure it's going to be nicer than my house I live in,” said McPeak, D-Warner.
McPeak said the state should use portable scales to catch truckers driving with overweight loads.
House Bill 2391 would extend a plan approved by lawmakers about four years ago that diverted money from the gasoline tax to build the new weigh stations. The gasoline tax money goes to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's underground storage tank fund, used to pay for replacing leaking underground fuel tanks. About $16.5 million is in the fund.
The gasoline tax generates about $6 million a year; the original legislation authorized $51 million to go to the weigh stations.
HB 2391 increases the total amount of gasoline tax money going to the weigh stations to $81 million. The additional $30 million should be enough to pay for the last three weigh stations that don't have a funding source, said Mike Patterson, deputy director and chief financial officer of the state Transportation Department.
Bill goes to Senate
The House of Representatives voted 70-16 to pass HB 2391. It now goes to the Senate.
This isn't the first time money has been diverted from the underground storage tank fund. In 2001, the Legislature decided to take $38 million from the indemnity fund; half was designated for matching money to fund the national weather complex at the University of Oklahoma and the other half was designated for Oklahoma State University's biological sensory project.
Patterson said the 1-cent gasoline tax that goes to the underground storage tank fund expires at the end of this year. Senate Bill 1336, which is working its way through the Legislature, would extend the tax for 10 years through Dec. 31, 2022.
The state's first new weigh station opened last month in Kay County. An identical station is scheduled to open late this summer off Interstate 40 in Beckham County near the Texas line. Funding is uncertain for three of the five other weigh stations planned.
The new stations have the technological capacity to weigh moving trucks. Brake checks also will be performed at the stations, which will be connected to nearby exits to detect if trucks get off the highway in an apparent attempt to avoid them.
Most of the state's seven older weigh stations are outdated and aren't open 24 hours a day. A couple aren't close to the state's borders, such as the one near El Reno, which is about 125 miles from the state's border. The new weigh stations will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be checking trucks' weight, cargo and drivers.
“We need to build new weigh stations on the borders where they belong,” said Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow. “We really need to do something about our weigh stations.”
Estimates indicate more than 8 million trucks will enter Oklahoma at the nine new, state-of-the-art weigh stations.
The state Corporation Commission staffs the weigh centers. The Public Safety Department has troopers assigned to the stations to conduct inspections, as well as to chase down noncompliant truckers. The Transportation Department is responsible for building and maintaining the centers.
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority is providing about $11 million to build a weigh station on the Will Rogers Turnpike near the Missouri border.
Other inspection stations will be along I-40 in Sequoyah County near the Arkansas border and Interstate 35 in Love County, U.S. 69/75 in Bryan County and U.S. 271 in Choctaw County, all near the Texas border. A fully automated center will be built off U.S. 412 in Delaware County near the Arkansas border. All are within three miles of the state line.