Column by Fred Morgan, President & CEO of the State Chamber, published in The Journal Record on April 26, 2019
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, and Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz for the State Chamber’s podcast. I was pleased to learn that, at the state level, Oklahoma is making great strides in reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges and improving infrastructure.
For instance, in 2004, 17 percent of bridges were evaluated as structurally deficient, ranking Oklahoma at the bottom nationwide. Now, according to a 2019 Oklahoma Department of Transportation press release, less than 2 percent of the 6,800 total bridges on the highway system were rated structurally deficient.
This is great progress at the state level. But what about at the county level? Facing other pressing issues, it can be difficult for counties to invest in infrastructure at the same level as the state of Oklahoma.
Thankfully, there’s a program in place to bridge this gap: the County Improvements for Roads & Bridges program.
The CIRB program was created to provide dedicated revenue for counties to improve infrastructure and structurally deficient bridges. The funds from the CIRB program allow counties to pay for large, costly projects they otherwise couldn’t afford.
But, over the last few years, facing budgetary pressure, lawmakers diverted funds from CIRB to other needs. Right now, according to Gatz, we are in a place where we have projects that are engineered and ready to go (shovel-ready, so to speak), but lacking funding to pay for the projects.
Restoring CIRB funding to push these projects to completion is paramount, particularly for rural Oklahoma where infrastructure often needs greater repairs than core, urban areas. Restoring CIRB funds means Oklahoma counties can keep projects on track, moving Oklahoma forward.
Part of making Oklahoma a top 10 state is investing in our infrastructure; that’s exactly what Oklahoma needs right now. Anything that makes it more difficult to do business in Oklahoma – like deficient infrastructure – will only move us backward, not forward.
Infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue. No matter where you live or your politics, infrastructure has a profound impact on your daily life. For years, near-unanimous, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Gatz are working to maintain Oklahoma’s state-level infrastructure. Now, we must protect and preserve the CIRB program and restore funding that is essential for counties to continue to address bridge and infrastructure needs.