Tulsa streets are the casualty of severe, ongoing shortfalls in terms of new construction,
maintenance and repair to the sum of approximately $1.6 billion according to a recent
study conducted by a citizen's panel. For decades, these funding shortfalls have led to a steady decline in new construction and ongoing maintenance.
Oklahoma municipalities are in the unfortunate position of forced reliance on the
sales tax for operating revenue. Meanwhile the state, Oklahoma's 77 counties and many
school districts enjoy the benefit of diversified and less volatile revenue streams
such as the property tax.
Despite municipalities’ almost sole reliance on sales taxes, counties have also
reached into the pie by passing initiatives utilizing sales tax. Although cities
across the state have begun to reach maximum tolerance levels with citizens on sales
tax increases, they continue to face increased demands for services as the state
and county pass on more of the funding burden and unfunded mandates.
Such is the history of the decline in Tulsa's streets. As costs increase, sales
tax revenues have remained essentially restricted.
In the fall of 2007, former Mayor Kathy Taylor and City Councilor Bill Martinson empaneled a citizens committee chaired by community leaders Sharon King Davis and now-Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. The "Complete our Streets" committee met to analyze the current condition of the streets and make recommendations to Mayor Taylor and the City Council on next steps. Their findings and recommendations were issued in a report, the entirety of which can be found online at
Per Mayor Taylor's suggestion, the panel formed subcommittees to look at three distinct areas in depth: financing, contracting and smart urban design. The panel held public engagement opportunities for citizens as well.
Councilor Bill Martinson and Council staff members presented findings regarding the issue:
- In 1966, the land area of the City of Tulsa tripled (from about 50 to nearly 200
square miles), but our population has only grown by about 12% since 1970. Today,
there are enough lane miles of streets in the City of Tulsa to stretch from New
York to Los Angeles and back to Tulsa, with 500 miles to spare, and with a signalized
intersection every ten miles along the way.
- At the same time, we have prioritized important capital needs other than street
rehabilitation and maintenance, such as flood control systems, sewer infrastructure,
and short-term operating capital items.
- Funding sources that once sustained street programs, such as federal revenue sharing,
no longer provide support for street rehabilitation and maintenance.
- The State of Oklahoma limits the sources of municipal revenue, but does not provide
any substantial state funding for municipal streets. While 88% of the State of Oklahoma's
sales tax revenue is generated from sales within towns and cities, and while state
revenues have soared in recent years, only 1% of state revenues (Street and Alley
Funds) are shared with municipalities, leaving the City of Tulsa to build and maintain
our street infrastructure with local taxes.
- Our street maintenance deficiencies and funding needs are clear and specifically
defined, by objective measures.
- The public generally appreciates the scope and long-term nature of the problem,
and does not want superficial or short-term solutions, but rather a fundamental
shift in the way we address street maintenance, in perpetuity.
- Yet, there is limited tolerance for significantly increased taxation.
- While the City of Tulsa's sales tax rate has remained the same for the last quarter-century,
the State of Oklahoma and Tulsa County have added more than 3.5¢ during that time
to the sales tax rate currently applicable in Tulsa. Just 5% of all of the sales
tax revenue collected in Tulsa by all governments is spent on city streets.
- The City of Tulsa's property tax levy represents about 11% of the total property
tax applicable in Tulsa, and only about half of that is spent on city streets. Tulsa
County, Tulsa Technology Center, Tulsa Community College, and the City-County Health
Department each receive a larger share of the property tax than is dedicated to
An immediate, substantial, and sustained investment in street rehabilitation and
maintenance is needed to stem the rate of deterioration of our street network, and
to improve and stabilize the pavement condition of our streets.
See the 2008 five-year plan projects and previously approved projects currently in progress.