State, area, highway conditions may hinge on September vote on fuel taxes

by C.F. David

Robert Ward, Chief Engineer for Division Six of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation met on Tuesday, June 28, with members of the Cimarron County Chamber of Commerce, and other citizens for a discussion about the condition of Oklahoma's state highways.

Ward's Division Six includes all three counties in the Panhandle plus Ellis, Harper, Woods, Woodward and Alfalfa Counties in the state's Northwest corner.

The express purpose of the meeting was to try to inform the public about deficiencies in the state's highways. But underlying was a push for voter support to raise the taxes on fuel. The fuel tax question will come up on a September ballot.

Ward made the point that District Six presently has four different trade corridors planned to pass through the area, and that along with that, the district has 99 structurally deficient and five functionally obsolete bridges.

In a booklet handed out, complete with a ODOT created CD cleverly named “Be A Roads Scholar”, Ward created a grim picture of roads and bridges that had been laid out and planned in the late 19th and early 20th century trying to move traffic more than 100 years later with trade routes fed by CAFTA and NAFTA thrown into the equation.

According to the information supplied by ODOT, the American Trucking Association projects an over-the-road freight increase of 50 percent over the next 10 years. Overall truck usage is expected to grow by 70 percent and automobile usage by 33 percent in the same decade.

The system status report handed out by Ward estimates that 25 percent, (3,000 miles) of Oklahoma's 12,266 miles of roadway need to be rehabilitated or replaced.

The state also has 162 bridges which are 80 years or older, (one was built in 1896). Many of these bridges are weight posted meaning that truck freight traffic is stymied, thus affecting the state's economy.

Of the just under one-half million dollars raised by Oklahoma's present fuel taxes less than half, (47.1 percent), goes to the state transportation fund, the bulk of the fuel tax dollars are split between Indian tribes, general revenue, leaking underground storage tanks, county highways and bridges, cities and towns, and other non-highway uses.

The present Sooner State fuel taxes at 17 cents for gasoline and 14 for diesel, are the lowest of any adjoining state plus Louisiana, Missouri and Nebraska .

Texas and Louisiana are set at 20 and 20, Arkansas is 21.7 and 22.7, Missouri 17 and 17, Kansas, 24 and 26, Nebraska, 25.4 and 25.4, Colorado 22 and 20.5 and New Mexico at 17 and 21.

If the Oklahoma tax bill passed a vote of the public, the taxes on fuel would rise to 22 and 22 cents each.

Representative Gus Blackwell assured those attending the meeting that as the bill is written, the added tax funds could not be touched by the state's congressmen and it would be earmarked for highway and bridge repair.

Ward emphasized that money could not even be used to hire more personnel or give present personnel a raise in their wages.

Boise City News
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