The Oklahoman: Jim Inhofe: A welcome new blueprint for Oklahoma highways

By:  Sen. Jim Inhofe
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Oklahoma's robust surface transportation infrastructure has served as an economic backbone for our five military installations, local businesses, farmers and energy producers looking to
create jobs and efficiently move their goods across the country.

This is why when I came to Congress in 1987, I pursued committee assignments where I could impact transportation policy. As a conservative, I also was driven by the conviction of the Constitution that instructs Congress in Article 1, Section 8 to defend our nation and provide for our roads and bridges.

Thanks to the steadfast support of Oklahomans, I garnered the role 12 years ago as the Republican leader of the most powerful Senate committee overseeing transportation, the Environment and Public Works Committee. My first priority was to pass a fiscally responsible, long-term highway bill, which we accomplished in 2005.

That four-year reauthorization ended Oklahoma's donor status of sending more gas tax revenue to Washington than we were receiving in funding. It also secured $2.8 billion in funding for Oklahoma, a roughly 32 percent increase over the previous highway bill.

The most noteworthy project that benefited from the bill was the I-40 Crosstown corridor, one of the largest interstate modernization projects in the nation. By tripling its capacity, I-40 will better support the population boom our state has experienced and improve the efficiency of goods moved across Oklahoma.

That bill expired when America was in the midst of a new administration and new majority in Congress. As a result, the nation's surface infrastructure suffered from more than 30 subsequent short-term funding patches.

In 2012, my Democratic committee counterpart and I were able to give America a reprieve by passing a 27-month reauthorization. We streamlined the costly environmental review process, cut federal transportation programs by two-thirds, and gave states more flexibility with funding for projects of national interest.

After it expired, Congress returned to its wasteful cycle of short-term funding, which brought needed highway modernization to a halt. This left Oklahoma with nearly 4,000 structurally deficient bridges and 30 percent of our major roads in poor condition.

When I returned to the helm as chairman this year, I made my No. 1 priority to once again pass a long-term highway reauthorization bill. On Dec. 3, Congress passed the FAST Act, a bipartisan five-year bill that includes $3.6 billion in new federal funding for Oklahoma, the largest single infrastructure investment in Oklahoma's history, and the longest highway reauthorization since 1998.

The hallmark of this bill includes the National Freight Program, which will provide Oklahoma with $18.5 million in the first year to help improve freight corridors, in turn supporting local businesses and farmers who are moving $117 billion in commodities across the state each year. The bill also builds upon previous conservative reforms and includes provisions to encourage the use of natural gas for everyday vehicles.

With the FAST Act's funding predictability, our state's transportation leaders will be able to launch vital modernization projects to encourage economic growth over the next 50 years. This will mean less time in traffic and more time with family; less pothole patch work and more large-scale projects to create jobs and build safer bridges.

I'm proud that Oklahoma is known for its first-rate highway system. With this new blueprint for surface infrastructure, I'm confident the state will continue its legacy as the most attractive state to do business in America.

Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is Oklahoma's senior U.S. senator.