Flooding Spurs Fallin To Ask Oklahoma Transportation Officials To Expedite County Road Projects

May 28, 2015

Gov. Mary Fallin has directed the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to speed up bidding on county infrastructure projects and find more ways to support recovery efforts in light of widespread damage after flooding throughout the month of May.

Aerial footage of floodwaters covering Alameda Street as it crosses Lake Thunderbird in far east Norman on May 24, 2015.
Credit Lawrence McEwen / YouTube

Fallin says some state lawmakers have asked her to redirect money from Oklahoma's Rainy Day Fund to county infrastructure projects, which she doesn't have the legal authority to do.

“Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley and ODOT Director Michael Patterson are working hard to find additional ways we can provide state support for eligible local infrastructure repairs,” Fallin said in a statement. “We are making sure, for counties hit the hardest by these storms and floods, that help is on the way.”

Dozens of roadways are still underwater across the state, and Fallin has declared a state of emergency for all 77 Oklahoma counties.

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood said Wednesday as he toured flood and storm damage in Purcell and the Lake Texoma region the full extent of the damage won’t be known until the floodwaters recede.

“It’s a large flood. I wouldn’t be surprised if two-thirds or not more of the state were declared [a federal disaster area] after this is all said and done,” Ashwood said. “There’s only about six counties that we’ve heard from that haven’t had any damage.”

KOSU’s Michael Cross reports the move by Fallin’s office comes less than a week after lawmakers approved a $7.1 billion dollar state budget that cuts $72 million from transportation funding:

Randy Robinson with the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma says the money is designed to replace dilapidated and dangerous bridges across the state.

"That have been around in the 20s and 30s and 40s that are just no longer capable of holding up the loads and holding up the traffic."

Robinson says Oklahoma remains an agricultural state which is dependent on getting products to market.

"We drive a lot of the deficient bridges in Oklahoma. 80 percent of the deficient bridges are on the county highway system, and so we're just trying to get them fixed and keep them safe for everyone."

He says the recent rains are adding insult to injury as the flooding helps aid in the deterioration of the state’s rural roads and bridges.

In the meantime, state Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthire) wants Fallin to veto the state budget because of those transportation cutbacks.

In a post on his website, Murphey said motor vehicle taxes are a user fee for roads, and that should be used for repairs, rather than raided for other purposes.

“Under the new budget the amount of motor vehicle funds going to county roads will be capped with the $21 million overage going away from transportation and to the politicians to appropriate where it isn't being used for transportation,” Murphey wrote. “Over the past few weeks, those of us who support transportation funding knew this cap would likely be brought forward. But, to add insult to injury, on the day before the budget was brought up for a vote, we realized that the government also intends to raid already existing transportation funds of $50 million.”

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