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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

July 9, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. July 7, 2019.

— Oklahoma’s laudatory bridge repair program

A recent meeting of the Oklahoma Transportation Commission offered a reminder of just how successful the state has been in transforming its bridges from among the worst in the country to among the best.

Tim Gatz, head of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, reported that of the 6,800 bridges on the state system, 132 of them (just under 2 were deemed structurally deficient at the end of 2018. In 2004, before lawmakers got serious about paying to improve roads and bridges, the total was 1,168 (17%).

Fifteen years ago, Oklahoma ranked toward the bottom of states with the fewest structurally deficient bridges. Today, the state ranks No. 13. “We had hoped that we would crack the top 10,” Gatz said.

That Oklahoma has made such progress is a credit to the Legislature and to ODOT.

The transformation was borne of tragedy, however. After a motorist driving on Interstate 35 was struck and killed by a piece of concrete that fell from a bridge, the Legislature realized it had to do better than to keep its appropriation to ODOT flat as it had for two decades.

The Republican-controlled Legislature crafted, and former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry signed, a bill creating the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) Fund. ODOT also produced a revolving eight-year construction plan that addressed pressing repair and replacement needs.

The beauty of the eight-year plan has been that the projects to be begun each year are determined by ODOT’s engineers and staff and not by lawmakers, who for too many years had considerable say in which roads or bridges got attention and which didn’t.

The ROADS Fund gradually increased ODOT’s road and bridge appropriation over several years and eventually reached the maximum funding level of $575 million per year.

Using its eight-year construction plan, ODOT has improved thousands of miles of roadway and has a goal of reducing the number of structurally deficient bridges on state highways to fewer than 1% by next year.

It’s important to note that “structurally deficient” doesn’t mean unsafe. Instead, it means the bridge has a structural deficiency that requires attention. This is determined on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a new bridge; once any part of a bridge gets a rating of 4, it is deemed deficient.

Gatz credited the Legislature and the transportation commission for the gains made to date. “Many of those bridges were replaced or repaired in times of extreme budgetary challenges,” he said.

Like other state agencies, ODOT occasionally saw some of its funding reduced during those lean years. But it has been able to stay mostly on track. As a result, Oklahoma officials don’t have to cower when the issue of bad bridges is raised. Instead, they can say proudly, “Look what we’ve done.”

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Enid News & Eagle. July 8, 2019.

— We can’t take water lightly

Northwest Oklahoma — and all of Oklahoma for that matter — has received some good news.

The state, as of late June, was declared drought free by U.S. Drought Monitor. Of course, the bad side of this is how Oklahoma became drought free. Much of the state was devastated by flooding, but there were benefits from all the rain, as well.

Businesses around Canton Lake, which was impacted severely by drought and a January 2013 water release to Oklahoma City that nearly drained the lake, have enjoyed the benefits of the recent rain.

Crappie King Cabins near Canton Lake are seeing occupancy near 100%, after barely reaching 25% during the drought.

“It’s helped our business. We’re at least 85% full, and through the springtime we were at probably 100%,” said owner Donnie Jinkens.

During the drought, Army Corps of Engineers said in May 2018, the equivalent of 1.16 billion gallons of water flowed into Canton Lake from its 7,601-square-mile drainage area. In May 2019, more than 25.8 billion gallons flowed into the lake.

Since Jan. 1, Oklahoma has received an average of about 27 inches of rain, which is almost 8 inches above normal and the fourth wettest six-month period in nearly a century, according to Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

U.S. Drought Monitor, an assessment of drought conditions across the nation, indicates Oklahoma was drought-free as of June 25.

A year earlier, more than 72% of the state was experiencing some degree of drought, including 28% of the state that was in severe drought and almost 12% in extreme drought.

Typically, though, for our part of the state, we’re entering the period where it’s usually the driest. One expert says we may buck that trend this year.

Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of meteorology at Texas A&M University and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies, said an El Niño weather pattern brought on by the natural warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean brought wetter-than-normal conditions to the Southern Plains and other drought-stricken areas of the Southwestern U.S.

“We still have El Niño conditions in place,” Nielsen-Gammon said, increasing the likelihood of plentiful rainfall and below-average temperatures through September.

Much of the central U.S. is expected to remain wetter than normal throughout the summer, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

We will have to wait and see what the next couple of months hold. But one thing is for sure. We shouldn’t take the abundance of moisture for granted. As quick as the drought went away, it could return.

Be mindful of that. We all need to remember that water is one of our most precious commodities and we shouldn’t squander it.

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Tulsa World. July 9, 2019.

— U.S. women’s soccer team deserve better treatment from the people who run their sport in the United States

Congratulations to the U.S. women’s soccer team on their World Cup victory Sunday.

At bars, restaurants and living rooms across Tulsa (and across the nation), aficionados and those who normally pay no attention to the game gathered to watch the final match against the Netherlands and cheer the 2-0 victory. The women played hard, beat their opponents fairly and represented our nation well.

They deserve better treatment by the people who run their sport.

In March, the players filed a federal lawsuit against the nonprofit national governing body of soccer alleging institutional gender discrimination because they are paid much less than players on the national men’s team.

SB Nation reports that the highest paid men’s national team player makes nearly $200,000 more than the highest paid women’s national team player, and similar disparities continue through the teams’ rosters. Because of bonus pay inequities, the men’s team could lose every game and make nearly as much as the women, even if they won every match.

The U.S. women certainly are more successful than the better-paid men. The women’s national team has four World Cup titles, including the past two. The women have won four Olympic gold medals and are recognized as the still dominant team in an improving international field. The men’s team didn’t qualify for the most recent men’s World’s Cup.

The success of the women’s team has sustained the growing popularity of soccer in America, especially among girls. The Guardian reports that in 1972, only 700 girls were playing soccer at the high-school level in the United States. By 1991, the year of the first Women’s World Cup, there were 121,722 high school girl players. In 2018, 390,482 high school girls were playing soccer.

It seems to us that the women’s team is getting less pay for more results, the difference being they are women. That’s not the way it should work.

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