Gary Ridley, director of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, has praised Congress for providing an $8 billion solution to the solvency crisis facing the federal Highway Trust Fund.
Ridley was on hand in Washington to testify at bridge safety hearings as the Senate approved the measure and sent it to the House.
“I believe I witnessed history in the making,” Ridley said.
Congress shifted $8 billion of general funds to the Highway Trust Fund, which was running on empty as Americans reduced their use of gasoline due to high costs. The drop in consumption resulted in not enough gas tax revenue coming in to keep up with payments to states for transportation infrastructure projects. The cash infusion should stave off a previously projected shortfall of $3.1 billion or more.
Ridley said the Oklahoma Transportation Commission might meet as early as this week to consider its recent deferral of $80 million in highway construction projects. The commission deferred work on 30 potential contracts that were up for bid.
The infusion of cash is a short-term solution that did not solve the long-term problem, according to Ridley.
“We need a policy that transcends election years and ensures that we have a world-class transportation system,” he said. “We cannot allow this short-sighted federal deficiency to bring the department to the brink of insolvency.”
Oklahoma gets about $600 million a year in federal highway money from the trust fund, which finances 85% of its construction work. Revenue from state taxes is earmarked for maintenance projects and routine upkeep.