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Tulsa World: Local leaders meet with delegation
May 6, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey

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Tulsa World

Local leaders meet with delegation

by JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Link to Article

WASHINGTON - A group of Tulsa-area elected officials and business leaders met Wednesday with members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation to discuss transportation projects, the Arkansas River and other top issues.

In daylong sessions with the lawmakers, key members of the group, sponsored by the Tulsa Metro Chamber, took turns briefing the delegation.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett identified completion of the Gilcrease Expressway as the group's No. 1 priority.

On another major issue, Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith spoke about the need to address the receding shoreline and other problems with the Arkansas River.

Bartlett explained the dramatic impact the Gilcrease Expressway project is expected to have on the entire region, noting that it would provide direct access to the airport as well as to the Port of Catoosa.

Areas that continue to be disadvantaged would benefit directly, he said.

Any federal money would be added to funding provided by other sources, Bartlett said.

Recently the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority was charged with conducting a study on that project, and some think that one likely option to come out of that would include a toll bridge.

Keith said the Arkansas River's habitat for wildlife has been compromised, and she asked lawmakers to get behind a potential solution with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Members of the delegation generally were supportive.

Notable exceptions were comments from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who challenged the group about forcing the next generation to pay for the Gilcrease project - which he described as a great project.

"Remember when you get the money, you actually took it from your grandkids," Coburn said.

Coburn, who does not request earmarks for Oklahoma projects, also made it clear that he would not help obtain an earmark for a project to restore the Arkansas River and its receding shoreline.

"If we earmark this for Tulsa, you're going to see 49 other earmarks that are going to be nonpriorities," he said. "What does that do to the nation? Now, it takes a whole lot of money that is not a priority."

Asked later to react to Coburn's comments, Bartlett, a Republican, and Keith, a Democrat, took different approaches.

Bartlett initially said he did not see negativity in Coburn's statement.

He said the senator was talking generally about projects that do not go through a congressional process, adding that those projects take money away from good projects.

"That's how I interpreted it," he said.

Pressed further on the issue, the mayor conceded that Coburn's comments might have been contrary to and not helpful to efforts on the Gilcrease Expressway project.

Bartlett said, however, that continuing a dialogue with Coburn might result in common ground.

Keith said Coburn's comments were consistent with what he said previously.

"I wasn't taken aback by that," she said. "Would I wish it was the other way? Yes."

Keith said other members of the delegation support the efforts to make the river whole again and understand how critical the river is to Tulsa's future.

"It is a very important project," she said.

On Coburn's comments about forcing grandchildren to pay for current projects, Keith said she takes the view that current projects will give the next generation a more viable future.

Tulsa-area communities will benefit from improvements to undeveloped land and a larger tax base, she said.

Other items on the group's agenda included support for the funding request by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., to implement the Arkansas River corridor master plan; support for the next major transportation measure, which now is not expected until the next Congress; back funding for a project to deepen the McClellan-Kerr waterway and to widen its last 50 miles to the Port of Catoosa; secure funding for various health-care services; and measures to ensure that Tulsa stays off the nonattainment list on ozone.

Comments from the delegation ran toward the positive.

Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., called the river the crown jewel of Tulsa.

Inhofe, a key player in both transportation and water issues, defended the use of earmarks, as did Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla.

Inhofe and Boren are the only members of the delegation seeking earmarks for constituents.

House Republicans have agreed to a moratorium on earmarks.


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