WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Tuesday a five-year highway bill now on its way to the Senate floor would provide the largest infrastructure investment in Oklahoma history, a $100 million boost, and give the state much-needed flexibility to modernize the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

Funding also would be authorized for specific projects such as Interstate 44/U.S. 75, the Oklahoma Republican said.

Advanced by a 21-0 vote of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Bill 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, would authorize $287 billion over five years, an amount that led the panel to describe the measure as the “most substantial highway legislation in history.”

“I’m pleased this legislation contains provisions I authored to benefit Oklahomans, including making sure we get our fair share in federal highway funds, prioritizing the repair of our bridges and getting projects off the ground faster by streamlining permitting requirements,” said Inhofe, for decades a major congressional player on infrastructure legislation.

Before 2005, he recalled, Oklahoma was a donor state to the Highway Trust Fund, paying more in taxes than the funds it got back for projects, adding that changed under the bill he authored and would remain in the new bill.

In addition to the $4.2 billion authorized for Oklahoma over five years, Inhofe singled out the bill’s provisions amending existing freight programs and allowing the state to direct the funds to deepening the McClellan-Kerr waterway and applying for grants designed for projects of regional significance.

Not only would that help make moving freight on the nation’s waterways more efficient, Inhofe said, but it also would reduce the “wear and tear” on highways.

“It creates meaningful workforce development opportunities to train the next generation of engineers, technicians and workers to build, repair and maintain our infrastructure,” the senator said.

According to the committee, the bill would provide an increase of more than 27 percent over the current levels of funding and includes provisions on road safety, streamlining project delivery, protecting the environment and growing the economy.

Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, the panel’s ranking member, said the bipartisan legislation would help both urban areas and communities in rural parts of the country.

Despite the unanimous vote by the Senate committee, a huge challenge remains in coming up with a way fund such a bill, one of the reasons many cite for President Trump’s campaign promise of a trillion-dollar infrastructure package never producing anything more than words of encouragement from both Republicans and Democrats.

During the mark-up of the bill, Carper read what he said was a tweet by Trump endorsing bill, saying the president’s support will be crucial in coming up with a way to pay for the huge bill.

Final action on the legislative effort is not expected to come until sometime next year, when the current law expires.

Inhofe’s office provided statements of support from leading officials and organizations in Oklahoma.

“Northeast Oklahoma’s economy depends on safe and reliable transportation infrastructure,” said Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber. “America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act will undoubtedly spur additional private investment, as have so many federally funded infrastructure projects across the Tulsa region and the state of Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz said the bill was desperately needed to provide the safe, efficient and effective transportation system that future generations deserve.

“We simply have to find ways to increase investments, reduce bureaucracy and expedite federal program and project delivery to the direct benefit of our transportation infrastructure, for the safety and prosperity of our citizens and for the sustainment of a robust economy,” Gatz said.

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