Sen. Inhofe secures increased transportation funding for Oklahoma

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, praised the unanimous committee passage of America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 and announced provisions in the legislation that will benefit Oklahoma.

Inhofe’s provisions focus on the future of Oklahoma, specifically: sufficient funding to prioritize Oklahoma highway projects, using freight dollars to modernize MKARNS to support economic development and agriculture throughout the state, streamlining regulations to get projects off the ground faster and promoting workforce development.

“I have always said there are two main things we should be doing here in Congress, building roads and defending America,” Inhofe said. “I am pleased America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act passed through committee today—true bipartisanship at work. I’m pleased this legislation contains provisions I authored to benefit Oklahomans, including making sure we get our fair share in federal highway funds, prioritizing the repair of our bridges and getting projects off the ground faster by streamlining permitting requirements.”

He said the bill amends existing freight programs to allow the state flexibility to modernize the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System and apply for federal INFRA grants, designed for projects of regional significance.

“It creates meaningful workforce development opportunities to train the next generation of engineers, technicians and workers to build, repair and maintain our infrastructure. I’m glad this committee and this administration are taking the importance of funding America’s infrastructure seriously and I look forward to this legislation’s swift consideration on the Senate floor,” added the Senator.

Building on the successes of Inhofe’s FAST Act, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 is the largest amount of funding provided for highway reauthorization legislation in history. The bill authorizes $287 billion from the Highway Trust Fund over five years in investments to maintain and repair America’s roads and bridges and to keep our economy moving. The legislation includes provisions to improve road safety, accelerate project delivery, improve resiliency to disasters, reduce highway emissions and grow the economy.

The following provisions in America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 will directly benefit the state of Oklahoma:

Apportionment: Under America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, Oklahoma will receive $802 million the first year the legislation is enacted, $100 million more than currently under the FAST Act. For the full five years of authorization, Oklahoma will receive $4.2 billion – guaranteeing that Oklahoma continues to receive its fair share of federal fuel tax revenue for Oklahoma roads and bridges. This would be the largest infrastructure investment in Oklahoma history. Before 2005, Oklahoma was a donor state to the Highway Trust Fund, paying more in taxes than was being received in highway funds. Sen. Inhofe changed that when he authored the FAST Act, by creating a fair formula for apportionment so Oklahoma was no longer a donor state to the Highway Trust Fund.

National Freight Program: This provision continues the National Highway Freight Program created in Inhofe’s FAST Act, which provides funds to improve goods movement, reducing costs and improving performance for businesses and individuals. Under this program, Oklahoma will receive $137 million over five years dedicated to improving freight corridors and associated assets allowing for local businesses and farmers to transport products and materials more efficiently, cutting down costs for them and their consumers. Additionally, Inhofe authored a provision that will make it possible for states to direct funding from the existing freight program to modernize and deepen federal marine highway corridors instrumental to the movement of waterborne freight, like the MKARNS. This investment would make the movement of freight along recognized transportation corridors more efficient, relieving congestion and wear and tear on our nation’s highways, allowing federal dollars to get more mileage. 

Environmental streamlining: This provision builds on the streamlining provisions Sen. Inhofe helped negotiate in the last highway reauthorization bill, the FAST Act. It establishes that the environmental review process should be completed in two years, with the codification of the “One Federal Decision” policy that would accelerate project delivery, allowing for the review, permitting, and approval processes to be conducted more efficiently, saving Oklahoma time and money when starting new infrastructure projects.

Workforce Development: This provision would empower additional workforce development opportunities through current DOT programs, including pre-apprenticeship programs and vocational training opportunities for construction workers. These changes will help Oklahoma address our current workforce gaps as well as future workforce needs resulting from emerging technology. It also modifies an existing grant program that authorizes the Secretary to award grants to educational institutions and State DOTs to provide hands-on career opportunities to meet current and future needs.

Bridges: The Bridge Investment Act, included in the highway package, establishes new opportunities for Oklahoma state and local governments to invest in bridges both on and off the National Highway System. Because of Inhofe’s work in the FAST Act, Oklahoma is a leader in having the fewest number of structurally deficient highway system bridges, but more work remains on hundreds of bridges in Oklahoma. The Bridge Investment Act provisions gives Oklahoma additional tools to continue to address bridges across the state in need of repair or replacement. In total, this legislation provides up to $6.6 billion over five years to address the national backlog of bridge maintenance.

Geomatic data: This provision would allow the Secretary of Transportation to accept geomatically gathered data, like data collected from a drone or other aerial surveying, for the purposes of considering preliminary approvals of permits. It will accelerate permit consideration across the government and will benefit pipeline, electric transmission, highway and other infrastructure projects.

“The historic transportation infrastructure investment level included in the senate version of the highway reauthorization is absolutely warranted and desperately needed if we expect to provide the safe, efficient and effective transportation system that our future generations deserve,” said Tim Gatz, Secretary of Transportation, Oklahoma. “We simply have to find ways to increase investments, reduce bureaucracy and expedite federal program and project delivery to the direct benefit of our transportation infrastructure, for the safety and prosperity of our citizens and for the sustainment of a robust economy.”

“The senior senator, Chairman Inhofe, has always understood the need for federal supported infrastructure and his provisions in ATIA deliver for Oklahoma,” Gary Ridley, former Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation, said. “He’s a strong advocate for investment in local roads, bridges and waterways and this bill continues to build on the significant reforms he started in the FAST Act. This legislation will bolster our national infrastructure, streamline permits to get jobs off the ground faster and invest in workforce development.”

“It’s great news that Oklahoma will receive $802 million (a $100 million year over year increase) in funding for our transportation needs the first year of this bill,” said Fred Morgan, President and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma. “Particularly noteworthy to Oklahoma’s business community is that this bill cuts red tape to deliver projects cheaper and faster. It’s also encouraging to see this bill include $2.9 billion for the Tribal Transportation Program, which further encourages state, local, and tribal infrastructure partnerships that continue to benefit our state. Bottom line: This is a great bill for Oklahoma and couldn’t be more timely. Today’s funding announcement comes as Oklahoma is poised to become a top ten state. A vital part of that is investing in our infrastructure; anything that makes it more difficult to do business in Oklahoma–like deficient infrastructure–will only move us backward, not forward.”

“Our nation’s transportation infrastructure is critical to our economic health and passage of America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act could not be more important,” said Roy Williams, President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “It is vital to the completion of the  I-44/I-235 project expanding a critical interchange in Oklahoma City.  Increased funding will allow communities across the nation to see these improvements so that businesses can transport goods and travelers can move safely to their destinations.”

“Northeast Oklahoma’s economy depends on safe and reliable transportation infrastructure,” said Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber. “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act will undoubtedly spur additional private investment, as have so many federally funded infrastructure projects across the Tulsa region and the state of Oklahoma. The Tulsa-area business community looks forward to working with federal, state, local and tribal partners to ensure our region maximizes the return on this critical investment.”

“Road builders across Oklahoma are ready to get to work,” said Bobby Stem, Executive Director of the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors. “From the recent heat induced road buckling found on highways across the state to the highway improvements in Calera, our infrastructure is in perilous condition. Recently, the weather in Oklahoma has exposed an even greater need for a long-term funding solution for our nation’s roads and bridges. With this new highway bill, we will be able to better plan for Oklahoma’s future, resulting in an infrastructure system that can safely network our nation. Furthermore, this bill contains important construction industry workforce development provisions to foster needed hands-on career training and educational opportunities. We commend Sen. Inhofe for his tireless commitment to find long-term and sustainable solutions. His focus will not only build Oklahoma but will boost the economy and, most importantly, keep our families safe while traveling. Thank you, Sen. Inhofe, for making Oklahoma’s roads and bridges a top priority.”