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Dead end: Project delays a road to nowhere

Dead end: Project delays a road to nowhere

The Oklahoman Editorial
Published: March 1, 2009

Crumbling roads. Hazardous bridges. Interstate highway rebuilding projects begging for money.

Yet three legislators want to hold up federal highway stimulus money and spend $650,000 for a "study” they think will prove racial discrimination in contract awards. The lawmakers say they have "substantial evidence” of Oklahoma Department of Transportation bias in awarding contracts.

This is a jackhammer blow on a concrete state agency doing its best not only to keep up with road and bridge repairs but to stay in compliance with bidding laws.

We doubt the legislators have "substantial” evidence of discrimination. In any case, holding up highway funds won’t help anyone. We don’t doubt, however, that the Obama administration will take the allegations seriously.

Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, is among those claiming that minority contractors are being shut out of contract awards. ODOT denies it. We suspect the goal of this road trip isn’t so much to find proof of discrimination as it is to establish an affirmative action program for minority contractors.

Oklahoma has traveled this byway before. A 1987 law allowed the state to pay a 5 percent upcharge on contracts going to selected minority groups, putting an added burden on taxpayers. The law was declared unconstitutional; non-minority contractors were given the green light to sue for recovery of money lost in a truly discriminatory contracting procedure.

If "substantial evidence” of discrimination exists, let’s hear it and make things right down the road. Blocking highway spending and funding an expensive study is a dead end.

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