Construction was underway on the Imhoff Road bridge in Norman, Oklahoma, on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, after structural issues were discovered during an inspection. (Gaylord News)

WASHINGTON — Cities and tribes across Oklahoma have miles-long lists of projects they hope to fund with the more than $5 billion that has been unlocked for Oklahoma by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure package signed into law Nov. 15 authorizes spending to repair roads and bridges, expand broadband and fund clean energy, transit and other public works over five years. Native American and Alaskan tribes will receive $11 billion from the package, from which $3.5 billion will go to the Indian Health Service agency.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

The state of Oklahoma and its municipalities will receive about $4.6 billion for roads and bridges, $520 million for water infrastructure projects, nearly $500 million for airport and public transportation and more than $100 million to improve internet access for the 1.12 million low-income Oklahomans, according to the White House.  

Despite the substantial bipartisan support the legislation received in the U.S. Senate and, to a lesser degree, in the U.S. House, every member of the Oklahoma congressional delegation voted against the bill. 

Repairs, replacements or improvements

Major cities and tribes across the state said they have large needs for the cash that will become available as a result of the legislation. 

“We have stormwater needs, because we’re the largest city in the state of Oklahoma not to have a stormwater utility, because we’re the only city in the state that has to vote on the creation or raising of the utility, so having funds to address gaps in that area will be fantastic,” Norman Mayor Breea Clark said

Clark said three Norman bridges have failed in the past five years, and her office is excited about infrastructure money going toward bridge and road repairs because the city is behind on maintenance.

The city also has an important project at 36th Avenue NW that was supposed to receive federal funding. The city has matching money from a general obligation bond voted on by Norman residents waiting to be combined with federal funds to complete the project, Clark said.

According to the city’s website, the project involves widening 36th Ave NW from north of Tecumseh Road to north of Indian Hills Road from two to four lanes, with five-foot-wide on-street bike lanes. 

“This project has a high chance of moving forward and finally being completed because of the progress we’ve already made, and, hopefully, the infrastructure bill will fill that gap and get it over the finish line. So this is very important in Norman, and we should be able to act on it immediately,” Clark said.

Jerald Gilbert, Enid’s city manager, said the city is very excited about the prospect of additional funding to fix the city’s aging and insufficient infrastructure.

“Roads, streets, and bridges are a huge need for us in Enid. Water and sewer lines are another exciting possibility. Just about any infrastructure that you could imagine requires repairs, replacements or improvements,” Gilbert said.

OKC residents ‘wanting to see public transit’

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said he is very interested in money for roads and bridges and the city’s transit dollars. 

“We’re a city built around the automobile, but in the last couple of decades, our residents are wanting to see public transit alternatives and prioritize more money in that bucket to partner with some of the things we’re already doing,” Holt said.

Holt said Oklahoma City is building its first bus rapid transit line between Classen Boulevard and Northwest Expressway, two important medical and commercial areas.

The other thing he looks forward to, Holt said, is Amtrak’s promise to use infrastructure money to connect Oklahoma City to southern Kansas, which would allow connection to Chicago and beyond.

“If you look at the Amtrak map across the country, the Heartland Flyer comes up from Fort Worth and ends here in Oklahoma City, so funding in the bipartisan bill for passenger rail would potentially link us up to Newton, Kansas, which is a northern suburb of Wichita, making the whole Amtrak network more available to our residents,” he said.

Holt acknowledged that projects funded by the infrastructure bill will take years to complete, and future mayors would probably “cut the ribbons” when they are finished.

He said the relocation of Interstate 40 near downtown is an example of a major infrastructure project. The project was first planned in the 1990s, and he attended the ribbon cutting 25 years later.

“When I talk about these things, and the benefits I see for Oklahoma City, I also recognize we’re talking about years to award these dollars and years beyond that to begin construction,” Holt said.

Lawton Mayor Stan Booker said the city has a lot of water-sewer infrastructure and industrial roads that he hopes can be advanced with the new federal money. 

“So, those are the main areas we could benefit from the most, industrial infrastructure and water-sewer infrastructure,” Booker said.

Choctaw Nation appreciates ‘allies in Congress’

Randy Sachs, a spokesman for the Choctaw Nation, said infrastructure money will allow the nation to make intergenerational infrastructural investments in broadband expansion, road construction and surface improvements, electrification and power generation, and many other things. 

“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is historical and incredibly large. Because of this, the transfer of funds could be slow, and implementation could be even slower,” Sachs said. “Federal agencies and departments will likely hold numerous consultations and listening sessions and accept written and oral comments to fully understand the needs and desires of tribal governments before distributing these funds.”

It will also allow the tribe to continue to care for the environment, which he said is one of the primary responsibilities of tribal communities. 

“The Choctaw Nation is grateful to the Biden administration and our allies in Congress for ensuring Indian Country was not forgotten during the drafting of this important legislation,” Sachs said.