OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - High gasoline prices that are taking a toll on motorists could begin hampering the agency in charge of maintaining Oklahoma's roadways.
State Transportation Director Gary Ridley expressed concern Monday that a federal trust fund fed by sales of gasoline and diesel fuel could have an $8 billion shortfall that would trickle down to Oklahoma.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, author of the federal legislation, said the impact on Oklahoma next year could be a $172 million shortage.
“I think all projects will be affected. It can't help but be,” Ridley said. “You can't take that kind of money out of a single-year program and not have some effect on the program in its entirety. Some projects will have to slide.
“It may not just be one year, $172 million loss. You have to look at it for future as well as to how much money will be coming in.”
The potential for a shortage has been created by declining fuel sales. The federal trust fund takes in 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline sold and 24.4 cents for each gallon of diesel.
Ridley said the shortage would be spread across the state Transportation Department, cities, counties and other entities.
“It would be a disaster, I think, for us as well as for the rest of the country if some way they don't come up with those funds,” Ridley said.
“We have a lot of confidence in Sen. Inhofe and the rest of our delegation that they'll come up with a solution, but it's going to take the administration cooperating with Congress in order to be able to provide the funds.”
Ridley said the high price of gasoline is also contributing to a shortage of materials such as liquid asphalt that are needed for road projects because refineries are focused on maximizing their gasoline production instead.
“It's not only becoming extremely expensive but it's becoming extremely rare,” Ridley told the state Transportation Commission at its monthly meeting. “For whatever reason, the refining process that refines gasoline and diesel, those products are apparently such a high demand and high return on investment that that's where all of the refining process is taken.”
Ridley said he did not expect the materials issue to prevent the completion of any construction projects going on this summer.
The greater concern is on the federal front, where Ridley said the funding problems could begin with the start of the U.S. government's 2009 fiscal year in October. Ridley said Inhofe, R-Okla., and dozens of others senators signed a letter last week urging action to address the shortfall.
“Congress is going to have to figure out a way to solve it,” Ridley said. “I certainly don't have the answers to that. … Just as our state Legislature and governor here have helped solve the problems as far as state funding is concerned, I think Congress and the administration have to come up with a solution at the federal level.”
The Transportation Commission also approved bids for a $5.8 million project to resurface a four-mile stretch of Interstate 35 between I-40 and I-44 in Oklahoma City and a $4.8 million project to resurface eight miles of I-244 in Tulsa east of the U.S. 75 junction.
The commission also signed off on the spending of about $21,750 for an underwater inspection of the U.S. Highway 62 bridge near Muskogee after its supports were hit by runaway barges in April.