T4America to Sen. Coburn: Cutting Bike/Ped Won’t Fix Oklahoma’s Problems

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.”

Three years after a chunk of concrete falling from a bridge killed a woman in Oklahoma, bridges (like this one) continue to crumble in the state. I guess it was because of the ##http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bikeped/bipedfund.htm##$7 million## Oklahoma spent that year on bike/ped.

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.

  • I’m an Oklahoman and agree completely with the sentiment. Transportation Enhancements and bridge repair do not and should not compete. But this article contains two very large errors. First off, the I-40 bridge collapsed because a barge ran into it, not because it was deficient. To suggest otherwise borders on offensive and a misuse of tragedy.

    Secondly, T4America’s rankings are WAY off. In 2010, Oklahoma ranks 17th in total deficient bridges (29%), 16th in bridges not on the National Highway System (30%), and 29th in bridges ON the National Highway System, with 18% deficient (i.e. those that actually receive federal transportation funding). Nationally, those averages are 24% total, 25% non-NHS, and 19% NHS. So for federally funded bridge improvements, Oklahoma does better than the nation as a whole. Whose bridges are worst? The District of Columbia with 65% deficient, followed by Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with roughly 50% deficient bridges each.See http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bridge/nbi/defbr10.cfm for data.

  • Stephen Lee Davis

    Micah, thanks for the comment. You’re getting different rankings because you’re including bridges that are not actually “deficient” when you calculate a percentage. 

    The column on that FHWA page for “# deficient” includes bridges in that total that are NOT structurally deficient but “Functionally Obsolete.””Functionally Obsolete” has no bearing on a bridge’s structural condition or standing whatsoever. It generally means that the lanes are too narrow or the state would prefer that it have 4 lanes instead of 2 or doesn’t meet some other current traffic engineering standard, like overall capacity, etc. But the sub- and super-structure and deck are all rated 5 or above for “sufficient.”11.5% of our nation’s bridges are structurally deficient, not 24% for all bridges. Calculated this way, Oklahoma is definitely 2nd, with 5,212 deficient bridges, or about 22% of all OK bridges, right behind Pennsylvania at 26%.

  • My mistake; thank you @Micah. I changed the picture to a more current one — bridges are still crumbling in Oklahoma at an alarming rate. And I still maintain that it’s not because  they’re spending too much on sidewalks.

  • I appreciate the clarifications and didn’t intend to disparage your main point. I had read the table to mean that # FO was separate from # Def, but now I see that the latter is a sum of # SD (structurally deficient) and # FO. Sorry for my mistake and I do appreciate the work both of you do.

  • Stephen Lee Davis

    No problem, Micah. Thanks for the note. It was a good opportunity to explain some of these nuances for other folks as well. 

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