Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that if Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn insists on holding up legislation to extend the surface transportation and aviation bills, “we will have about 80,000 people out of work by Saturday.”
Although SAFETEA-LU doesn’t expire for another two weeks, the FAA reauthorization expires in two days, and Reid said that if Coburn doesn’t change course, “we cannot get to this bill prior to Friday when the FAA expires.”
But it appears Coburn hates Transportation Enhancement programs enough to cause such consequences. “If we’re going to extend the bill,” he said, “then let’s let states use the money to repair bridges and highways, not build scenic and sound walls and make things look nice.”
Coburn and other TE opponents often deride the program as funding “beautification” (about 13 percent of TE funds) and “transportation museums” (1.5 percent). But bicycle and pedestrian programs constitute 57 percent of TE spending – real transportation programs that improve mobility with positive impacts on the environment and public health.
Coburn is unmoved. “We need to let the states decide how they repair the bridges and highways,” he went on. “Instead of doing what we want them to do, we need to let the states do what they want to do.”
Transportation for America has news for Coburn: “Cutting enhancements is not going to fix Oklahoma’s problems. And it’s not the reason their bridges are in such poor shape.”
Oklahoma ranks second in the nation for most deficient bridges.
Here’s what T4America says:
So what could Oklahoma do if we quit “making” them set aside this small fraction of money to make their streets safer and save lives?
Oklahoma has almost 6,000 deficient bridges (22 percent of all of their bridges, 2nd worst percentage in the country). FHWA estimated in 2009 that they’d need $1.1 billion to repair all of their bridges. Oklahoma got just $16 million in enhancements funding in 2009. At that funding level, it would take almost 68 years of enhancements funding to address their bridge needs. And that’d be assuming that no more bridges end up structurally deficient — unlikely with an average bridge age of 45 years. (That’s 3 years older than national average, with most bridges expected to last about 50 years.)
Devote 100 percent of enhancements to bridge repair and a child born today will be on Social Security before Oklahoma’s bridges are fixed.
As for the idea that no more bridges would fall into disrepair — that’s wishful thinking, especially with Coburn’s counterparts in the House trying to slash transportation funds by a third.