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Counties face stiff challenge in keeping bridges in good shape

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: April 16, 2014

CLOSURE of a bridge linking Purcell and Lexington poses a major hardship on local citizens. Until the bridge is repaired, they’re forced to drive 30 or more miles for a journey that would normally be less than two miles.

The bridge is 76 years old and plagued by structural issues that made its closure and repair mandatory. As hard as this is on the people who regularly make the crossing, it’s temporary. The situation offers the advantage of a fast-tracked repair because the bridge is owned by the state. Two months after the closing, the end is in sight: A June reopening is targeted.

Were this bridge not part of the highway system and state-owned, it could be years before the structure was repaired. That’s precisely the scenario county commissioners face across Oklahoma.

The National Association of Counties (NACO) says county governments — not the state — are responsible for 70 percent of public road miles and 59 percent of all bridges statewide. By comparison, counties nationwide own, on average, 45 percent of public road miles and 39 percent of bridges.

Counties get local, state and federal funds to maintain roads and bridges, but are they getting enough? Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn, an Edmond Republican, is among commissioners frustrated by their inability to keep bridges open and replace bad ones.

In the Deer Creek area, streams traversed by county bridges are subject to periodic flooding. This has led to road closings that can last for days. Upgrading the bridges would cost $12 million to $22 million in just this one area.

“The county does not have access to a funding program of this magnitude,” Vaughn told us. “Thus, the issue persists.” Indeed, the next big rainfall will bring a familiar sight to those living in northwest Oklahoma County — barricades preventing travel until flooding subsides.

Bridges are also under threat in the eastern part of the county because of natural shifts in the North Canadian River floodplain. “These river bridges would be difficult to replace due to funding limitations,” Vaughn said.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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