by Gus Blackwell
Last week was the deadline for Senate bills to clear Senate committees. Any bill that did not clear this hurdle will lie dormant until next session. Of course the author can also try to amend that language into another bill that is still alive. There were several good bills from the House that were not heard by a Senate committee. The House has another two weeks to continue the committee process on Senate bills.
One bill that did pass through the Senate committee was a House bill by Rep. Jim Newport (R-Ponca City) that would increase road maintenance funding. Although, the Senate had a similar measure, they opted to adopt the better measure. This bill would increase road maintenance funding over a period of 5 years to 170 million more than its current level. It would appropriate an extra 2.5 billion over the next 15 years for bridge and road maintenance.
Presently there is a backlog of about 8 billion dollars in projects for Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT). The problem has continued to increase because the funding for road maintenance has remained basically static while the budget has nearly doubled. This bill wouldn't solve the problem, but would begin to finally address the problem that affects all of us.
This is one area of concern that I am always getting calls about from constituents. Nearly once a week I get a call about getting Highway 136 from Texas to Guymon redone and made safe. I also regularly get calls about Highway 171 going south from Keyes to the Texas state line fixed. I have also received calls about roads and bridges in Harper, Ellis, and Beaver county. That is one reason I asked to be put on the Transportation Committee in order to help get these projects on the eight-year project list.
One bill that came through the Transportation Committee earlier this year dealt with renaming some bridges in southeastern Oklahoma. Senator Laughlin and I had talked about this issue in our area and decided to use this bill to rename State Highway 54. We had thought about using the resolution process, but decided using a bill would be better. I amended the bill on the House side to rename this road for two individuals that have made a great contribution to our area.
The portion from the Kansas state line to Optima will be named the Luke James Memorial Highway. This is in memory of 2 nd Lt. Luke James from Hooker that sacrificed his life to protect the men in his unit in Iraq. He is an inspiration to all that knew the character, integrity, and ability that he possessed. What a tremendous example he was of the type of young men and women that come from the panhandle His willingness to serve and protect his country should be remembered in the coming years..
The portion of the Highway that runs from Optima to the Texas state line will be named the Jack Begley Memorial Highway. This is to commemorate Rep Begley that served as a teacher and coach in Texhoma. He also worked for a number of years at OPSU as a coach and in administration. As a legislator, he was instrumental in helping to get highway dollars for the Spirit 54 project. With the new funds from the Federal Highway bill, and with increased funding for state roads, this project should be on target to be finished in the near future.
Boise City News