Under current law, ODOT receives over half a billion dollars a year to use as they please-with no legislative oversight or other controls. Technically, the Transportation Commissioners could do so, but the reality is that the budget is so large that no commissioner can provide proper oversight in a one hour hearing once a month. This is taxpayer money that is taken "from the top", meaning that there are no limits or controls in how ODOT decides to use this money for projects or how they wish to spend it. The law that allows this was passed to remove the politics of road building. But the price ODOT paid was the requirement that each year they propose projects in an Eight Year Construction Plan, so the taxpayers will know what projects they have planned and how that money will be used. While minor changes could be made, the intent was that once in the plan, projects would be taken through completion through the eighth year as proposed.
That's not what ODOT is doing. For example, when it comes to US69 through Muskogee, going as far back as 2012, ODOT has stated projects described as "Grade, drain, bridge and surface" for various amounts. Now, that same language was used in 2017, at which time ODOT said it meant that they intended to build a bypass through Muskogee, and added to the budget a $100,000,000 cost to do so (1/2 of that amount for the project to be completed in that years construction plan). Before they made that pronouncement, no one knew that's what they meant-because ODOT did not consider bypassing Muskogee prior to 2017 .
After our objections were made to the bypass, in 2018, ODOT changed the language in the 2018 Eight Year Construction Plan. Now, it reads "reconstruction with existing with additional lanes." Now, what exactly does that mean? Good question. No one but ODOT knows, and they aren't telling. Basically, since the budgeted item is almost the same amount, it can mean pretty much whatever they want it to mean. This was confirmed by the the Division I Engineer, who said "The change in the project label is just a basic description of the project and may change again as we continue to develop the project." In other words, it means whatever ODOT wants it to mean, and ODOT may change it again to suit their needs. And that's ignoring the very intent of the reason the Eight Year Construction Plan was made a part of the law where they get the $575 million off the top with no legislative oversight in the first place, or for that matter, any oversight at all.
Currently, ODOT receives up to $575 million taxpayer dollars a year to do with as they please with no legislative oversight and little oversight by anyone else. They can use it, for example, to spend two-thirds of a million dollars for pre-construction design and engineering services and then decide they want to do something else, as they did for those services for the original widening project they proposed on US69. They can spend $120,000.00 on an outside company to prepare a program to present to the public in an attempt to convince the public a bypass that no one wants is needed, as they have done. Basically, they can spend it any way they want because no one, including the Transportation Commissioners, is providing any oversight.
It's time for that to stop. Since ODOT is spending money and wasting it, the legislatue should step in and provide proper oversight. They should amend the law to require ODOT to specically, and clearly, set forth the nature and scope of the projects included in the eight year plan, and limit ODOT from making major changes in projects once they are approved and added to that plan. That was the original intent of the Eight Year Construction Plan, and if ODOT ignores that intent, the legislature should step in and require it. New laws should be passed that not only would prohibit ODOT from wasting taxpayer dollars, but that also makes the accountable for the money they do spend. Finally, if ODOT is wasting taxpayer money, they should not be guaranteed those funds off the top. The legislature should provide the oversight and approve how ODOT spends the billions of dollars that are allocated to it.
We don't know what the term "reconstruction with existing with additional lanes" meant, so we asked the official responsible-the Division I Engineer-specifically if that term includes the bypass as ODOT had proposed in the 2017 Eight Year Construction Plan. He responded by stating they have a safety project proposed, but simply ignored our specific questions whether the bypass was still included or not, or was still an option still being considered. So we asked again. He simply ignored our question and did not respond. You can follow our emails here. Here's what we asked, and since ODOT won't answer these simple questions, the following are the answers we think they would give if they were being honest with the public:
1. What was the reason for the change of language in the previous eight year plan adopted in 2017 and the language now set forth in the 2018 eight year plan, and what is the significance of that change, specifically as to how it relates to the US69 Realignment as proposed in the 2017 eight year construction plan?
Answer: Because ODOT can say that the bypass is no longer in the plan if we are asked, but then can add it back in and say it is if we decided to do so.
2. Exactly what does "reconstruction of the existing with additional lanes" actually mean in relation to what will be proposed at the January 2019 meeting?
Answer: Whatever we want it to mean.
3. Is the US69 Realignment Proposal no longer in the eight year plan? If not, is it still an option that will be proposed at the January 2019 public meeting?
Answer: Of course it is, on both counts.
The only way ODOT can be made responsible to the taxpayers is to reign its out of control spending and waste, and stop them from the arrogance and abuse as shown by what has happened in Muskogee. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere in the state where ODOT wants to spend or waste our money on projects no one wants.
It's time that kind of unbridled power and wasteful spending is stopped.
Tell your Representatives and Senators to bring ODOT back into reality, and enact laws that stops their abusive and wasteful spending and arrogance. They are here to serve us-not the other way around. Contact your Representatives and Senators, and let them know you support laws that would bring ODOT back into control and curtail their wasteful spending and that would require them to comply with the intent of the Eight Year Construction Plan!
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