DALLAS — A blue-ribbon citizens task force has recommended Tulsa raise more than $1 billion to bring the condition of city streets to an acceptable level by issuing at least $650 million of general obligation bonds and levying an additional 0.5% sales tax dedicated to street maintenance. The group’s report was presented to the City Council’s Urban and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. The 22-member Complete Our Streets task force was appointed in September by Mayor Kathy Taylor and Councilor Bill Martinson.The poor condition of the streets is a result of years of insufficient appropriations for street projects in city budgets and bond programs, the panel said.“Over the years, numerous capital projects have been deferred due to a lack of revenues,” the report said. “Those deferred projects then become more expensive over time. Our leaders have been dealt a difficult situation with decreasing revenues and increasing costs. The result is our present condition.” “To ignore it and not deal with it will be the death knell of the city as we want it to be,” the report said. “It is now our responsibility to do something about it.”The street task force urged city officials to put questions authorizing the proposed bond package and sales tax increase on the ballot for the April 1 municipal election.“We respectfully ask the city leadership to summon the political will to tell the citizens the hard truth about our city’s finances and that there is only one way to fix our streets and that is to pay for them,” the panel’s finance committee said in its report. “It simply cannot be ignored.”
However, Taylor would not yet commit to supporting the recommended $1 billion funding package. She said more study and citizen input are needed before the proposal can be submitted to voters.“I think that, working with the council, we will have a game plan very soon,” the mayor said. “I refuse to sit on this report or let it gather dust on a shelf. We will act on these recommendations, and we will act soon.”Bond proceeds and sales tax revenues would provide the $1.1 billion the panel said would be needed over the next 10 years to bring city streets up to a 70 grade on a pavement condition index developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, up from the current grade of 60 for arterial streets, and keep them in good shape. Needed improvements, such as street widening and intersection upgrades, will cost another $500 million, the panel said.The finance committee said a $650 million streets bond package would require an increase in the city’s property tax of approximately 15 mills, which would raise the annual tax on a home appraised at $100,000 by $150 a year. The additional half-cent sales tax, which would be in place for at least 10 years, would generate $35 million a year initially for maintenance efforts, the city said, with revenues expected to increase in the latter years.The 20-year bonds would be issued over five years beginning in 2009 if voters approve. Tulsa’s GO bonds are rated Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA by Standard & Poor’s.The panel also recommended the city support a bill already introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature that would allocate 30% of state license tag fees to local governments for road and bridge projects. That split would provide $200 million a year to Oklahoma cities and counties, the panel said, including at least $50 million for Tulsa. In addition to the recommendations for conventional funding sources such as bonds and tax revenues, the panel also proposed a number of unconventional approaches to financing the street effort.The city should consider buying an existing expressway from the state, the panel suggested, using revenue bonds supported by tolls to pay for the acquisition. In return, the state would pledge to spend 100% of the purchase price on road projects currently planned for the Tulsa area. Other proposals included creation of a transportation infrastructure authority, selling naming rights to city street projects, and encouraging oil and gas drilling inside the city limits.Tulsa voters have approved three sales tax packages and three GO proposals since 1994. By 2013, when the latest tax package is slated to expire, those efforts will have provided $423 million for street work, or about $8 million a year for arterial projects and $13 million for residential streets.According to the city’s Public Works Department, Tulsa’s 1,339 lane-miles of arterials streets have an average rating of 60 on the 100-point pavement index, down from a 76 score in 1992. The city’s 2,999 lane-miles of residential streets have an average rating of 62, down from 72 in 1990.