Monday, July 4, 2011
I recently participated in the centennial celebration of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. It was a wonderful tribute, and a great time for all of us to remember how important transportation has been, and still is, to this state.
As Oklahoma has grown and flourished over the years, so too has our transportation infrastructure. Imagine the gravel and dirt roads of 100 years ago and note where we are today with a modern, comprehensive statewide transportation network of highways, waterways and railways. Having that modern infrastructure encourages trade and commerce, improves our quality of life, and creates jobs.
The history of Oklahoma transportation is an impressive one. In the agency’s early days, the first highway commissioner, Sidney Suggs of Ardmore, proposed six highways, which were eventually built and are still in use today. However, at that time, the highway department didn’t have enough money to pay for blue prints let alone road construction.
Another early highway commissioner, Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, is known as the Father of Route 66. In the 1920s, he also helped create the nation’s highway numbering system.
In the 1970s, Catoosa became one of the nation’s largest, inland, ice-free ports. In 1999, passenger rail service was reestablished with the Heartland Flyer traveling daily between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas. As lieutenant governor, I helped launch the Heartland Flyer and was especially proud last year when it earned Amtrak’s highest award, the Amtrak President’s Service and Safety Award. In 2001, ODOT also pioneered the extensive use of high-quality cable barriers to help save lives – a system now used in other states.
Besides the impressive accomplishments made by ODOT, many of our state’s transportation milestones can be credited to everyday Oklahomans who saw a need and responded. Parking meters were invented in Oklahoma City and Tulsa gave us the yield sign. Wiley Post, the first person to fly solo around the world, is credited with the pressurized flying suit and discovery of the jet stream. The first electronic turnpike PikePasses were used in Oklahoma.
At the same time ODOT has worked to improve Oklahoma’s transportation system, the department has worked to improve its efficiency. Over the years, the agency has reduced its workforce by 25 percent through the use of public-private partnerships. Even ODOT’s centennial observance was being funded by public private partnerships. I’ve said our government agencies need to become smaller, smarter and more efficient, and I’m happy to say that ODOT is leading the way in that regard.
Other improvements ODOT has implemented to increase its effectiveness are new methods of planning, such as its eight-year Construction Work Plan, to make sure the agency sets sound priorities and makes certain each of its projects is critically needed.
A safe and reliable transportation system is essential to the economic well-being of the state of Oklahoma and to investment, job retention and job attraction; it is also essential to public safety.
More than 700 million tons of freight is shipped each year in our state – to and from markets in and around Oklahoma, the nation and, indeed, the world. Every ton of freight represents good jobs and hard work for the people who manufacture or grow, transport or sell the products that make up each ton.
We must continue to maintain and improve our transportation infrastructure, while we plan for the future and our ever expanding needs. As we work together to make Oklahoma a world-class state, we must continue to follow ODOT’s vision and the sound blueprint it has laid out in its eight-year Construction Work Plan, which will bring more jobs to our great state.
By Governor Mary Fallin