The Oklahoma Department of Transportation released its eight-year Construction Work Plan by the Oklahoma Transportation Commission this week.
An action necessary for the department to function in the long term, more than $4.3 billion in bridge and highway improvements are planned by the end of 2019, said Terri Angier, ODOT spokeswoman.
This eight-year plan is updated each year because a blueprint is needed for rights-of-way and designing projects.
“Our projects are very much long-term plans within environmental clearance of federal laws and federal funding, which is a key point of this,” Angier said. “We have to plan things way in advance.”
In response to ODOT’s eight-year Construction Work Plan, Supporters of State Question 744 issued a press release critical of the $4.3 billion in construction plans “while schools across Oklahoma face crippling budget cuts,” Supporters of State Question 744 stated.
“While opponents of SQ 744 say that Oklahoma cannot afford to invest in our children, they are able to find $4.3 billion for transportation projects,” said Michael Kolenc, Yes on 744 campaign manager. “Those same special interests that are fighting SQ 744 stand to gain financially from the $4.3 billion in transportation spending, and all while saying that 49th in the nation in school funding is good enough for Oklahoma. This type of hypocrisy makes it abundantly clear that Oklahoma’s kids and schools are not their top priority.”
SQ 744 will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
ODOT’s eight-year plan is for 1,750 critical projects. Highlights include more than 650 bridge replacements or major rehabilitations, which is more than three times the amount in ODOT’s first eight-year plan in 2003, Angier noted.
“As in the past, more bridges have been slated for replacement when compared with the previous year’s plan,” she said. “It also includes nearly $2 billion in major improvements and safety median barriers to high-volume facilities, as well as shoulders on rural two-lane highways.”
Angier said the press release issued by Yes on 744 indicates a lack of education from the group regarding ODOT.
“It’s actually more federal funds (60 percent) than state funds,” she said of the ODOT eight-year Construction Work Plan. The state will have contributed an estimated $1.72 billion by the end of 2019, according to ODOT.
Funding the eight-year Construction Work Plan is important to improve Oklahoma’s infrastructure, said state Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond.
Public investment for SQ 744 could prove costly
Supported by the Oklahoma Education Association, SQ 744 would repeal a section of the state Constitution. It would require the state to meet the regional per pupil average for spending in public schools.
Oklahoma’s region is comprised of New Mexico, Colorado, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. Oklahoma legislators allocate $7,615 per student in comparison to the average regional per-pupil expenditure of $9,078, said Doug Folks, OEA spokesperson.
Nearly two-thirds of Oklahomans favor tying public education spending to the regional average, according to soonerpoll.com. State Rep. Jason Murphey said he expects most Oklahomans will vote against SQ 744 when they understand SQ 744 for what it is. A 2009 interim House study found approval of SQ 744 would require a 40 percent tax increase or a 20 percent hit across the board of every state agency’s budget.
“We estimated that would be an $850 million increase of spending requirement,” McDaniel said.
Walton Robinson, communications director for Yes On 744, said that he disputes the accuracy of the House study as it’s not verifiable.
“That PowerPoint documentation they produced was far from a common sense, well-thought-out piece of public policy research,” Robinson said.
However, Oklahoma Policy Institute Director of Policy David Blatt said the state will fall further behind in other areas of public investment if voters approve SQ 744 on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. This possible mandate would cause an estimated $1.7 billion increase in funding for common education over three years without a new revenue source, Blatt said.
Robinson said the Yes on 744 campaign considers Blatt’s $1.7 billion figure to be inflated for political purposes.
“We’re going to continue to criss-cross the state and reach out to voters and earn every single vote,” Robinson said.
McDaniel said schools have funding issues that concern him. Improving the roads and bridges of Oklahoma are also a priority, he added.
“Improving education is not simply a matter of greater funding. It is an issue of student achievement and accountability,” McDaniel said. “SQ 744 offers no promise of reforms, performance and accountability, which are concerns felt by many throughout the state.”
THE NEW eight-year Construction Plan is available on the ODOT Web site at www.okladot.state.ok.us, then click News and Media. To learn more about State Question 744, visit www.yeson744.com and www.stop744.com.