Road funding, delays, to be discussed

Stock photo by PIxabay
Dianna F. Dandridge-Rystrom
News Reporter

LeFlore County residents are invited to attend a public forum at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation at the Donald W. Reynolds Center in Poteau. The meeting will provide updated information on the eight-year highway plan and how changes will affect the county.

Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, and newly elected Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, along with ODOT Division 2 Engineer Anthony Echelle will be at the forum to answer questions and detail any changes in the plan.

Kiger said residents have numerous questions concerning where the allocated funds for County Improvement of Roads and Bridges went and how that affects local road improvements.

LeFlore County Commissioner Lance Smith adamantly wants to see money returned to the CIRB fund and to see projects closer to home completed in a timely fashion.

“CIRB funding was meant to be as beneficial for the rural counties as it is to the more urban areas,” Smith said.

“It was passed in 2006. It was supposed to take a percentage from our car taxes to help with road and bridge improvement. But in the last few years we have seen a number of our projects get pushed back, while more expensive, extraordinary projects take the money for our roads.”

Lance said during the last several years, the legislature has taken about $230 million from CIRB funding.

“Money was illegally taken from the CIRB funds and it has cost the counties tremendously,” Smith said.

Smith said the State Highway 9 project at Sunset Corner is one of several county projects that have been pushed back, due to money being taken from CIRB.

Allen said there also needs to be some consideration on how transportation money is spent. He said numerous consultant engineers on the state payroll receive millions of dollars, which could be better spent on the actual road improvements, rather than for consultation work.

Kiger said that since 1987 numerous changes have improved the county roadways, but substantial areas still need improvement.

“In 1987, we had no four-lane roads. Today we have four-lane roads that are in good repair, but we also have stretches, like Highway 9, that are of high concern. There are dangerous stretches where OHP will not even attempt a stop because there is no place to pull over,” Kiger said.

“The focus for the coming meeting is to provide information to the residents regarding statewide issues and narrowing it down to the county plans,” Echelle said. “Highway 9 did have to slide back a couple of years ago, due to budgetary reasons. It is still in the eight-year plan, providing funding remains as it is."

A longer version of this article printed in the Dec. 15, 2018, print edition. To subscribe, call (918) 647-3188.