High gas prices are keeping motorists off Oklahoma’s highways, causing a dip in gasoline tax revenues at a time when construction costs are increasing rapidly.

Michael Patterson, finance director at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said he expects about a 4.5% drop in fuel tax revenue from the state’s 17-cent per gallon tax on gasoline in fiscal 2009. That is a decline of approximately $20 million a year, of which half is dedicated to the state’s highway system.

“We’ve seen a decline in motor vehicle travel since February,” he said. “That’s both in Oklahoma and nationally.”

Patterson, who is the head of the finance committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said a bigger problem than the decline in state tax revenues is a potential decline in money flowing to the federal highway trust fund. The trust fund receives revenue from the federal motor-fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gas and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel.

He said Oklahoma received an allocation from the federal highway fund this year of $542 million, but that could drop to $370 million with the new federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said last week that Americans drove 400 million fewer highway miles in March than in March 2007, and 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April from 2007 totals.

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