Oklahoma’s lack of a series of certifications may be keeping millions in federal transportation grants out of the state’s hands, according to State Sen. Mark Allen.
Allen, R-Spiro, who also chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said expanded federal grants are available for Oklahoma’s Department of Transportation (ODOT), but the state must be Core Certified first. ODOT has also been working to get the Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN) program certified by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Before Oklahoma can be Core Certified, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) must also complete the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and International Registration Plan (IRP) projects, which were originally set to be completed in 2009.
“Once Oklahoma is Core Certified, ODOT can apply for up to $2.5 million in expanded CVISN federal grants each year. These grants are available to state Departments of Transportation, and those monies can go towards upkeep and enhancing our transportation capabilities,” Allen said. “Unfortunately, Oklahoma was not able to apply for expanded CVISN grants in January 2017, because we are not yet Core Certified.”
ODOT has very conservatively estimated that the delay in the state’s Core Certification has cost the CVISN program in excess of $2.5 million.
“The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has known of these requirements and deadlines for years. Even though federal grants have been extended many times, every year the Corporation Commission refuses to comply,” Allen said. “Timelines are created and ignored. Deadlines have been extended, only to expire for lack of action. Furthermore, every year the possibility of millions of dollars in expanded federal grants go unused.”
Allen says the financial situation is now dire in Oklahoma. In addition to the current state budget crisis, he’s concerned that Oklahoma’s open CVISN grants are under “terminal” extension, which means these grants cannot be further extended.
“State monies will now have to be used for what could have been paid for by federal grants. Money was set aside to fund IFTA and IRP, but we will lose that money later this year,” Allen said. “ODOT tells us that the CVISN program will run out of federal grant money on December 31 of this year, and they don’t have a funding solution at this time. To date this year, we have lost $100,000 in already awarded grant money because we are not Core Certified. ODOT estimates we will lose an additional $400,000 of already awarded grant money at the end of this year because the project required for Core Certification will not be completed until May, 2018.”
Senate Bill 592, authored by Allen, who serves as the Transportation Chair, moves the enforcement of size and weights from the OCC to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Allen says DPS is the logical agency to assist ODOT in becoming Core Compliant, as they are the only agency able to enforce federal regulations.
“Once Core Certification is completed, we can apply for funds for technology at the ports of entry. Weigh In Motion (WIM) scales and license plates readers are reimbursable expenses. Technology can be upgraded on the interior weigh stations. We could enhance our ability to scan trucks across the state, and we can start with virtual weigh stations that are not manned 24/7. Data can be used to show us where we need to place emphasis on enforcement decisions. Infrared sensors can be utilized to check brakes,” Allen said. “But the most important thing we can do is make Oklahoma roads safer.”
The funding for these improvements relies on Oklahoma becoming Core Certified. ODOT can apply for federal grants again in January 2018. Allen said ODOT and DPS will work together to make Oklahoma Core Compliant. The state can be certified in January 2018 and expanded federal grants can be available in September.