Logan County—It was just one year ago when a trio of leaders met in Luther and took a bumpy tour of a stretch of road that badly needed repair.
The two-mile stretch of Triple X Road between State Highway 66 and Hogback Road is “owned” by Oklahoma City, traversed by Luther area residents for the most part, and is part of Oklahoma County’s District One. For locals, it’s the short-cut between Highway 66 and the Turner Turnpike, a short-cut that until last week was riddled with potholes and patches.
To make a long story short, exactly one year after that meeting between Luther Mayor Jenni White, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert and Oklahoma City Councilor Nikki Nice, the road has been repaved.
The approximately $1 million funding to repave the two miles came from the City of Oklahoma City and the county government pitched in the labor. And Luther residents are appreciative while they also point out the other rough roads in the area. (Indian Meridian, we’re looking at you!)
During a FB Live interview with Commissioner Carrie Blumert and OKC Councilor Nikki Nice on Wednesday, this project was part of their wide-ranging discussion.
“It shows how all of these government entities have to work together to get things accomplished,” said Nice.
Meanwhile in Logan County
While the trio of leaders accomplished this mission, seems there isn’t the same collaboration when it comes to Logan County and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
During a recent meeting of the Logan County Commission, the three commissioners listed their frustrations and obstacles to State Senator Chuck Hall who made an appearance at the meeting, broadcast by the Guthrie News Page. The commissioners insist if they only had the funding, they could put it toward their know-how to be better stewards of Logan County roads and bridges. But do they know how to make a crown on the road to lead to proper drainage?
Luther residents who live in Logan County, north of Waterloo Road are well-familiar with the issues. Dirt roads turn to mud in the rain and the red clay clings like concrete to everything from a vehicle’s manifold to the wheel wells. Locals are also arm-chair quarterbacks when it comes to how those roads should have some drainage, and graded to not reveal a washboard-like path that wrecks havoc on tires, suspensions and sanity.
Those Logan County property taxpayers and voters are also familiar with the promises of a paved road “someday” even while the roads disintegrate, and the excuses that county hands are tied because the funds are controlled by those who hold higher office.
The funding issue is partly tied to legislation, passed 15 years ago, that gathers up a portion of motor fuels taxes in one big state-wide shared pot for a County Improvement of Roads and Bridges (CIRB) fund. Part of the idea is the fund gives a means to save up to fix roads and bridges that went ignored during county commission scandals and whatnot. However, as good as a solution as that was at the capitol, and touted on ODOT’s website, the CIRB doesn’t have a lock and key on the fund, and it has been tapped into to plug other government holes during tight budget times. And so it goes.
Here’s how ODOT describes CIRB on its website.
The CIRB Fund would receive an allocation of state motor vehicle revenues to fund a Five-Year Plan of major county road and bridge projects overseen by ODOT and the county’s circuit engineering districts. This would take the politics out of county road project selection and help fund major projects that could never have been built by a single county. Since ODOT design standards and contract administration were used, the counties could apply for federal matching funds for these projects.ODOT CIRB Funding
Whether the politics have been eradicated from county roads and bridges funding, the CIRB funding has been a moving target over the last several years as explained by Logan County District 2 Commissioner Mike Pearson at the meeting.
He said that a long-promised job to pave Luther Road north of Waterloo was once a ten-mile project that would have gone to State Highway 105. But he said jockeying for CIRB funding caused the project to diminish to six miles, five miles and now is just two miles from Waterloo Road to Charter Oak Road.
Most residents in the area (this writer included) will believe it when we see it.
Pearson says his job is challenging with 350 miles of dirt and gravel roads and 50 miles of pavement in District Two. He said if the county had access to the CIRB funding directly, and could bypass the expensive engineering and other costs from ODOT, they could fix roads more efficiently.
“ODOT is in the business of building highways. I see what they are doing on (State Highway) 105, east of Guthrie. That is exactly what they are designing for Luther Road going north of Waterloo. It costs a heck of a lot more,” said Pearson.
Pearson said Logan County could pave those ten miles on Luther Road for what ODOT is spending on that two miles. “We’d make it a good safe road,” he said.
“We would get the people out of the mud and really increase the ability to get from Oklahoma County to 105 … without the type of engineering that costs so much. We know how to lay roads. We know how to get them to where they are stable,” he said.
Little Castles Everywhere?
Pearson said the issue is compounded by “urban sprawl.”
“People are are moving to the country in droves. They are leaving the cities. I have all kinds people moving out there who want a good road to go to their new little castle they put on a fairly good size piece of real estate. It’s very challenging,” he said.
Pearson is in a run-off election to serve another term. The challenger who put him in the run-off is Kody Ellis who works for District One Commissioner Marven Goodman. The election is August 25.
Senator Hall told the commissioners at the July 15, 2020, meeting that he felt their pain. The first term senator’s district covers four counties including Kingfisher, Noble, Pawnee and Logan. He said he has a verbal commitment from Senate Leadership to have an Interim Study on the issue this fall.
“There is a need for lots of infrastructure repairs. Frankly I don’t know how you do it. You are doing your best,” said Sen. Hall. “You’ve got my attention.”
But he said not all counties want to change the CIRB funding. He invited the Logan County Commissioners to be active at the capitol to plead their case for local control of tax funds to repair roads and bridges.
“I want you three to know that I’m committed to this. Get with your colleagues and work out a consensus. It is difficult go to the well of the Senate Floor to get dollars direct when their county commissioners say no. I could use your support with the colleagues in the other 76 counties,” said Sen. Hall.
UPDATE: The Oklahoma State Senate announced Friday the approval of interim studies to be completed by October 30. The “evaluation of the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Fund” made the list. Here is a list of all of the approved interim studies.